Each year, a movie comes along that unexpectedly captures the hearts and minds of Fantastic Fest audiences and becomes a breakout hit. In 2017, that movie just happened to be a Scottish zombie musical that takes place during Christmas.
Yes, you read all of that correctly. If the musical episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” were mixed with a little snow and “Shaun of the Dead,” you’d come pretty close to the magic of “Anna and the Apocalypse,” the second feature from director John McPhail.
Anna (Ella Hunt in a star-making performance) dreams of escaping her small-town life in Scotland. She works in a bowling alley with her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming), who secretly pines for her. As the movie begins, she has just greatly upset her father (Mark Benton) by admitting that she is planning to take a year off after graduation to travel before heading to university. The only thing that she can focus on is seeing other parts of the world, and Australia is her target destination. But first, she’ll have to survive the holidays.
There is no explanation for the zombie outbreak that occurs in Anna’s neighborhood, but it isn’t long before she is on the run with several classmates, and they’ve got a full catalog of catchy tunes to work their way through as they fight to survive.
The film contains no less than 10 original songs, including the brilliant “Hollywood Ending.” I didn’t expect to love the music so much, but Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly have written songs that bring all the characters to life and advance the story in a vital way. While I could never have imagined a zombie musical before this movie, now I cannot imagine the movie without the joy that the songs bring.
And just in case genre fans are concerned that "Anna" doesn’t deliver as a zombie movie, it’s still gloriously gory in all the right moments, and many characters are soaked in blood as they sing.
After a very front-loaded first half, it loses a little bit of steam toward the big finale, but I never stopped grinning from ear to ear. “Anna and the Apocalypse” offers an incredibly charming and talented cast, some fun scares, a few properly emotional moments and a whole lot of irresistible music. This one is going into my holiday viewing rotation for many years to come.