“Anna: On Dasher, on Dancer on… the other ones? / John: Firebolt? No… that’s Harry Potter’s broom. / Anna: Oh no. We can’t hang out anymore. You’re too sad. You’ve hit like, peak sad. / John: They were a very popular series of books.”– Ella Hunt (Anna) & Malcolm Cumming (John) in Anna and the Apocalypse
‘‘Twas” two days “before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring,” except the groans of zombies on the television. On TV is not Scrooged, Muppets Christmas Carol, or A Christmas Story, instead a holiday horror film with singing teenagers battling zombies. Is Anna and the Apocalypse a perfect Christmas movie? Hardly. Is it more a Christmas movie than Die Hard? Possibly. Is it a fun film with great music, quick comedy, and a fabulous way to stay goodbye to 2020 and hello to 2021? F*** Yes!
I think it was in the morning of late November of 2018 when I awoke in the morning, made a cup of wicked excellent coffee, and sat scrolling around in my phone. As per usual, I scroll around on IMDb and see what movie news awaits me. Then, I saw it; A zombie/ horror/ comedy in the same idea as Shaun of the Dead, but as a holiday musical. All I could muster under my breathe was, “Holy Shit! I am all in.” I did a little research and found out that the film, hailing from Scotland, was getting worldwide distribution for the holiday season.
I immediately went to the AMC Theaters website, plugged in my zip code, clicked on the title of the film, and saw “available.” All I had to do at this point was to convince my wife, Corinne, to go and see it. That would be an easy sell since she loves going to the movies, ordering movie snacks, and seeing a Christmas/Holiday film. Sure, a festive film with zombies, but also a musical. As soon as she was awake, I made her coffee and told her about the film. Her response, “as long as there are popcorn and snow caps in my future, then… Yes!” I do not often go to the movies, but this film, I felt, had all the ingredients of a one I wanted to see. Music, zombies, a badass heroine, some UK humor; how could it be bad? So, buckle up, as Corinne and I rewatch and discuss one of the best holiday/ horror/ comedy/ musical films, Anna and the Apocalypse.
Anna and the Apocalypse Overview
“There’s a world out there– “Break Away” – Vocals by Sarah Swire (Steph) and Music & Lyrics by Roddy Hart & Tommy Reilly
Why does no one care?
Are they lost in the games they play?
So much they don’t see
But there’s more to me
And I know I must break away”
My wife is the absolute best, and I appreciate that she indulges me in my film tastes. She did so when I originally asked her to go to the movies to see Anna and the Apocalypse, and she did again when I asked her to rewatch it for this post. Even though she loved the film, she hates horror movies, but loves holiday films, but hates gore, but loves musicals; you get the point, find the right balance! Corinne’s thoughts on it are insightful, funny, and pointed towards the musical/holiday component, while I love the musical/horror mixture. Let’s begin our discourse about Anna and the Apocalypse.
⚠️ Warning SPOILERS Ahead ⚠️
Here is the IMDb synopsis: “When the zombie apocalypse hits the sleepy town of Little Haven – at Christmas – teenager Anna and her high school friends have to fight, sing and dance to survive, with the undead horde all around them. Teaming up with her best friend John, Anna has to fight her way through zombified snowmen, Santas, elves, and Christmas shoppers to get across town to the high school, where they’ll be safe. But they soon discover that being a teenager is just as difficult as staying alive, even at the end of the world.”
I love Holiday-themed horror films. I find them enjoyable. For some reason, even terrible holiday horror films allow me to relax, have a hot cup of coffee, and enjoy the insanity of Christmas/Holiday films filled with some monsters, goblins, or mayhem. Hey, I have already written an entire post about my fascination with the horror genre, so this should not be a huge surprise. While I love holiday horror films like Krampus, A Christmas Horror Story, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Gremlins, Anna and the Apocalypse is my favorite of this sub-genre of horror, or better yet, holiday horror.
Anna and the Apocalypse premiered on November 29, 2018, and is a UK film from director John McPhail and adapted for the screen by writers Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry. It originally appeared in print as a novel, of the same name, by Barry Waldo. What makes the film so great is the musical component’s addition, with Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly’s music and lyrics. The songs are well-written, catchy, and fit perfectly within the arc of the film. Sometimes, in movies like this, a piece can feel out of place. Still, in Anna and the Apocalypse, they not only work but are beautifully choreographed and help to move the story forward, rather than being seen as a forced cinematic tool. Not all the movie’s songs are created equal, but they hit their mark more often than not. With a favorable Rotten Tomatoes score of 77% Fresh, and a far too low IMDb rating of 6.0/10, Anna and the Apocalypse is sweet, sad, funny, scary, and brilliantly mixes those emotions into a wonderfully layered out musical film.
With a 93-minute run time, the film made nearly $670,000, which is reasonably expected for a movie with a limited release. Ella Hunt stars as Anna Shepard, the heroine of the film. I thoroughly enjoy a film with a strong female protagonist, and this movie did not disappoint. While Malcolm Cumming as John, Sarah Swire as Steph, and Paul Kaye as the antagonist Headmaster Arthur Savage were compelling and rounded out my top four performances in the film, the best was Hunt as Anna. Not only was did she move between dramatic scenes and comedic moments with relative ease, but she had to sing and dance while battling zombies! In comparison to Shaun of the Dead, Hunt is situated at the center of the story, just like Simon Pegg’s Shaun. Hunt commanded this center, even while the supporting cast do their job and help stabilize attention at the periphery. Anna, as a character, is rather profound. Sure, she has teenage angst, but she has real trauma. The loss of her mother, her fight against the conformity ascribed by society, and her single father – all showcase her need to break free. She is a wonderful heroine, not because she is perfect, but because she has real issues.
I mentioned my wife’s dislike of horror films. She is far more comfortable in the world of comedy films and reality television. Don’t get me wrong, she loves good television and film, and more often than not, suggests a show or movie, of which I usually negatively judge it, then come to love it. She introduced me to Wentworth (#BEAdeservedbetter). Yet I introduced her to Haunting of Hill House. Still, the first time I tried to get her to enjoy a horror film was when I took her to see Krampus. A horror/holiday film by Mathew Dougherty, who did Trick or Treat, was infused with comedic elements I thought she would enjoy. She did! When Anna and the Apocalypse was to premiere, I knew I could get her to see it if I focused more on the musical and comedy part, a little less on the horror part.
Her overall thoughts about the film are both refreshing and reflective. While she loved the movie, the songs, the general plot, and the characters, she was wary of a rewatch. She hoped the film’s dark undertones would not be more apparent since we rewatched it during a global pandemic. An incredibly valid point, and one I had not considered. Would the viewing experience change how we observed the film since our life’s real circumstances had changed? Since the pandemic, I have not watched any zombie films except a rewatch of Shaun of the Dead in July. Watching that did not create any anxiety, but I have seen it at least a dozen times. Still, I can understand that during times like this, some cinematic content might be triggering. Going into this, Anna and the Apocalypse rewatch, my wife and I were excited, but the pandemic provided a new unique perspective.
Our initial rewatch conclusions are that the movie holds up, but some moments do not go down as comfortable in our current reality. While this did not diminish how Corinne felt about the film, it did make her want to skip over some moments that were too difficult. Instead, she wanted this rewatch to focus on those funny and musical moments. Anna and the Apocalypse is a film that you can only watch first once, so some critical moments lose the surprise element. Those tragic moments were too much of a downer this time, while those surprise, funny jokes maintained their importance. For me, the surprise is unnecessary, and knowing a tragedy will strike a character is not a retraction from my viewing experience, but Corinne feels differently. She’s never been a fan of films where everyone dies, arguing instead what is the point of the story if everyone perishes. This issue may not have affected her love of the musical numbers, but it did the dramatic moments.
For a movie about a zombie apocalypse with musical numbers, it has the power to both make you laugh and then, in the following scene, make you cry. That might seem out of place, but they are appropriately used and a gift, in my opinion, the movie possessed. It was able to mix comedy, horror, music, and drama in a way that did not force the emotional impact in an overbearing way. To further extend that point, Anna and the Apocalypse uses tears, laughter, and lyrics to build up and allow the story to swing drastically toward the end with dark consequences. The movie stays true to its constructed reality, with the entire plot holding steady, that the conclusion may not be pleasuring since there is no such thing as a “Hollywood Ending.” While Corinne has issues with those aspects, the music, scene construction, and the overall plot kept her willing to engage in a holiday rewatch.
Most Rewatchable Scenes
“New morning, feels different than before– “Turning My Life Around” – Vocals by Ella Hunt (Anna) and Music and Lyrics by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly
It’s dawning, this thing I’ve been waiting for
And I’m flying, my feet won’t touch the ground
I’m ready for turning my life around”
For those who are new to my blog, I did not create these categories. At the same time, I have discussed them previously in POP! Culture on Repeat, Movie Rewind: “Trollhunter”, and Cinematic Nostalgia, were, for the most part, developed by the movie podcast The Rewatchables, created by Bill Simmons’ The Ringer, which is owned by Spotify. I will start with several nominees and sprinkle in Corinne’s thoughts on those scenes. I preface a rewatchable moment in this way to my wife, who is a fan of the film Troop Beverly Hills. I told Corinne that her scene selection should be one she would be willing to watch rather than changing the channel. Meaning, when considering each scene from Anna and the Apocalypse, think back to the scene from Troop Beverly Hills when they sing “Cookie Time.” If that movie is on, she will do NOTHING but watch and sing as that scene appears. I wanted her to do the same with Anna and the Apocalypse and think which “specific” scene would make her drop everything and watch.
NUMBER 1: First Musical Number
The film starts with the title card and Christmas music playing, so you know it’s a holiday film. Our introduction to Hunt as Anna, Mark Benton as Anna’s father, and Cumming as John, in a car on their lift to school, operates on so many vital levels. Like Shaun of the Dead, it plays around marvelously with foreboding, but the first rewatchable scene is the first musical number/song introduced in the film. Here, Anna, John, and Swire, as Steph, sing about their teenage angst, as we observe their inner thoughts played out in a memorable melody in “Break Away.” It’s genuinely a heartfelt song, but it’s the visual part I want to focus on here. Each piece of the scene is flawlessly interwoven to make the song illustrate a beautiful tempo. It also introduced the audience to the film’s music, and in so doing, to the three characters who most represent this need to break free. They all feel stuck, wanting to break free from conformity, family obligations, or social stigmas, so, we the audience, are privy to that inner turmoil and push and pull. Corinne enjoyed this scene, but unlike me, felt it too dramatic, even with slight comedic nods to the growing zombie infections and pathetic school politics. Many can identify with this extraordinary scene. In my opinion, it is one of the most rewatchable in the movie, thanks to Hunt and Swire’s vocal range and facial expressions.
NUMBER 2: Cafeteria Song “Hollywood Endings”
While close in scene proximity to “Break Away,” this second musical number takes the film, the choreography, and musical tempo to an entirely new level. It’s fun, exciting, and hammers home how good Anna and John are and how the soon-to-be headmaster, Savage played by Paul Kaye, is primed to be Anna’s nemesis, yes even in a movie about zombies. “Hollywood Ending” brings both the main cast and Chris, played by Chris Leveaux, and Lisa, played by Marli Siu, into the school cafeteria mix. The musical number is fantastic in every possible extreme way. Again, seemingly diving into these teenagers’ hidden minds, the song parodies the concept that all fairytales end well. As the movie is alluding to, they often don’t, and to Corinne’s angst, the film will follow this methodology. While the song, its lyrics, melody, visual choreography are all wonderful, the music is melancholy, but not on the surface. Corinne agreed; while the lyrics are dramatic, the song was energizing and the equivalent of a massive musical moment. She loves the large and powerful musical number, not the more somber reflective moments in cinematic musicals. Corinne would choose “Greased Lightnin’” not “Summer Nights” from Grease. So, here in the zombie musical, she is all about the insane cafeteria musical number, “Hollywood Ending,” while I am happy with “Break Away.”
We both agreed that the song is ultimately better when Anna joins and continues from her perspective. She crushes the dancing and singing, which is off the chart fun and unique. Savage’s inclusion, towards the end of the number, shows that while his villainy is still in development, he too seeks his own Hollywood ending but is saddened by the reality that no such end is preordained. His anger steams from broken dreams, happiness unrecognized, or perfection unattained. Savage is the perfect example of what happens when such misguided realities are left to simmer negatively. Anna would be well not to become Savage, but instead, recognize that endings are sometimes ugly. In the end, a great scene, captivating song, and dance sequence make this one of our favorite moments from the film.
NUMBER 3: Anna and John Dance as the Apocalypse Rages
This rewatchable scene is another musical number and a perfect moment with Anna and John. Corinne and I agree that those scenes with Anna and John are often the best moments in the film. For example, when they are working at the bowling alley the night of the school Christmas concert and John, to impress Anna, accidentally hits his boss with a bowling shoe in one such scene. Another is while they are alone at the playground, in the snow, having a wonderful conversation. Here Anna talked about her fears and dreams, while John mentioned his wish to be better. Still, their musical number the next morning, as the zombie apocalypse had begun, took their connection to an entirely new and fun level.
In the morning, Anna awakes to discover she is late for school and rushes to leave but not before changing out of her penguin pajamas and opening her December 23 advent for some delicious chocolate. Then the music is played, and it’s insanity from here on out. What I love most is that Anna, headphones on, singing and dancing her path to school, but along the way, the world has descended into madness. Zombies are everywhere. They are falling out of windows, attacking people on the street who defend themselves by hitting the undead with their bags, and Anna has no idea. Instead, she sings, dances, and you cannot help but fall in love with the character and cinematic moment. There is some beautiful comedic timing here, and it is a perfect rewatchable moment.
The ironic part is how happy Anna looks, in her oblivion, as she sings “Tuning My Life Around” as cars are on fire and she is chased by zombies, without knowing it. In turn, John too begins his part of the duet, detached from what is going on. This moment is a clear nod to a couple of famous and vital moments from Shaun of the Dead, which I previously said the movie pays homage to. Anna and John make it even better by including a brilliant song, more awesome choreography, and a funny, horrifying scene with Christmas written all over it. The scene ends perfectly as the song comes to a close, and John and Anna finally link up, concluding their fantastic dance. Then they are confronted by a zombie snowman, who attacks them after Anna declares herself a “first aider” and awakens them from their blissful ignorance to a new world, where Hollywood endings and breaking away may no longer be in consideration. Hey, at least she hit him in the face with her backpack, which still makes me laugh every time, well that and when she knocks the zombies head off with a seesaw. I love horror/comedy/holiday films. Corinne loved the singing, not so much the decapitated zombie head in snowman costume groaning, but I digress.
NUMBER 4: Zombie Escape & “Soldiers at War”
While the musical number surrounding “Human Voice” is visually stunning, the song, with our pandemic raging, hits too close to home for rewatch consideration. The next scene deserving consideration is when our group of four, Anna, John, Steph, and Chris, after having survived a zombie attack at the bowling alley, attempt to leave and get to the school with the use of a rubber ball pit as their shield against outside zombie threats. This attempt will go very poorly, and it does, until they are saved by the unlikeliest of heroes, Nick, played by Ben Wiggins, who has a tumultuous relationship with Anna. He, and his group of guys, save the day, kill several zombies, and do so as they break out into song, “Soldier at War.” While not an overly replayable song, it’s visual use is fun. Nick is a perfect asshole, who has unresolved issues, so he is not as much an antagonist as he is misguided. Some comedy, some zombie kills, and a crazy exploitive laced song make it a worthy nominee.
NUMBER 5: Return to School and Epic Final Showdown
While I enjoyed the excellent dialogue about Anna and John’s future and friendship, John’s death was a severe blow. It was a moment in the film that I could not believe happened and remember wishing had not occurred. Corinne agreed as she refused even to rewatch that scene, arguing it was too jarring. She hates when films kill off main characters and felt John’s death was far too graphic and the character deserved better. Although Anna’s use of a candy cane to kill zombies in a rage after his death was extraordinary, I can’t disagree.
The next scene I want to cover is when the group, minus John, but now plus Nick, get to the school and confront Savage, who locks them in a room with zombies, alluding to the fact that he has lost himself and betrayed the other survivors who he had been watching over at the school. Here Paul Kaye gives a praise-worthy performance as Savage singing “Nothing’s Gonna Stop me Now,” which is as wild as his beard and hair. Seriously, he looked insane, but I was all for it and enjoyed it as he used his new villain status in an attempt to kill our group. Although they will soon lose Chris and Lisa in an emotionally tragic way, they survive.
Anna confronts Savage one last time after it’s revealed that he has taken her father hostage. Therefore, the final scene is powerful. With a bloody candy cane, Anna kills zombie after zombie singing “Give Them A Show,” which becomes a musical match of wits with Savage. Here Hunt, as Anna, leaves everything on the table. The scene has comedy, action, horror, and fantastic choreography while having two forces of nature; Anna and Savage play off each other. Anna offers optimism believing that society can redeem itself, and Savage targets pessimistic insanity as he sees humanity in its last act. The ending is sad as Anna senses her time with her father ending, but must fight and with Steph and Nick, make a break for it to an unknown future, with a subtle call back to “Hollywood Ending.” There is no happiness in the end. No one is left unwounded because no one would be unscathed from such events in the real world. I think that is what the last song, where Anna sings “I Will Believe,” accomplishes and why the film resonates more with me now.
As for which scene was most rewatchable, Corinne and I agreed that the scene where Anna and John dance and sing through the apocalypse is by far the most rewatchable. According to Corinne, it’s the comedy/horror genre’s pinnacle as it uses its humor to be scary, and its terrifying scariness is funny. The fact that Anna, and John to a lesser extent, are so oblivious to what is going on and the song “Turning My Life Around” is so damn appealing makes it a perfect cinematic musical moment.
Most Replayable Song
“‘Cause no one ever tells you when you’re young– “Hollywood Ending” – Music & Lyrics by Roddy Hart & Tommy Reilly
Love’s not like the books, the films, or the songs
We’ve been livin’ in a lie for far too long
And we’re tired of pretending
There’s no such thing as a Hollywood ending”
What Corinne and I like most about the songs from this film is that most are easily replayable all year long. They are not Christmas songs by nature, although they have a air about them that could conjure the winter/holiday season. They are well written and emotionally uplifting, even those numbers that are emotionally draining in the film. Songs like “Human Voice,” “Give Them A Show,” and “I Will Believe” are brilliant but heart-wrenching. “Human Voice” especially appears in the film as the apocalypse rages and the characters plea for the ability to communicate with their loved ones. “Give Them A Show” acts as the anthem to the final battle between good and evil while illustrating two visions of this new world. Still, my favorite song is “Break Away,” which can be listened to repeatedly, and a musical number I feel is imperative to the underlining point of the film. Corinne loved the song but didn’t choose it for the same reasons I did, too much drama, emotional, yet not enough pop. Her favorite song was “Hollywood Ending,” which she argued illustrated the film far more than “Break Away” or “Turning My Life Around,” which rounded out our top three. She loved the melody and felt it represented the film’s fundamental nature perfectly. With edgy lyrics and visual choreography, the song is the most unambiguous indication that the film is a true musical. The film can be funny, not take itself too seriously while being dramatic in composition. Hey, it’s a good and crucial argument, so “Hollywood Endings” for the win.
Best Heat Check
“Nothing’s gonna stop me now– “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now” – Vocals by Paul Kaye (Savage) and Music & Lyrics by Roddy Hart & Tommy Reilly
Nothing’s gonna stop me now
It took me time to blossom, I know
But I’m all fired up and I’m ready to go”
Both Corinne and I immediately agreed on who we thought deserved Best Heat Check. For more information on what constitutes a “Heat Check,” please check out my post, Top 6 Movie “Heat Checks”. In our initial discussion, Corinne made some valid justifications for Sarah Swire as Steph, the American abandoned by her parents and somewhat ostracized by the school community, and Wiggins as Anna’s asshole former fling Nick, as possible candidates. They both stole scenes they were in, especially Sarah, whose presence throughout the film was one of badassery, random comedic assistance, and moral authority. In the end, we went with Paul Kaye, the soon to be Headmaster Arthur Savage, who was brilliant with his limited scenes.
Kaye crushes his dialogue and makes the audience hate him, but yet feel bad for him as he loses everything and will not have a Hollywood ending. Kaye brings something to and out of his character Savage. There is real character development throughout the film. At first, he is the soon to be headmaster, then a wannabe leader trying to save those at the school, then a dictator who sees pleasure in the madness. Finally, he is a monster who actively participates in atrocities and is as inhuman as the zombies. Maybe someone else could have done with the role, be he had the voice, mannerisms, and facial acting to sell every scene and moment. In a musical about zombies and the struggle to survive an apocalypse, he was fantastic and the only person who was truly deserving of their final moments.
Who Won the Movie
“It’s been said the world’s a stage– “Give Them A Show” – Vocals by Ella Hunt (Anna) and Music & Lyrics by Roddy Hart & Tommy Reilly
And everyone must play their part
Well, if that’s true, I’ll act
With all my heart
I’ll take my cue to go
Stand ‘neath the spotlight’s glow
And give them one hell of a show”
Like the Heat Check category, Corinne and I were both in full agreement for this category. While Corinne liked Cumming as John, and I was impressed by the vocals and acting of Swire as Steph, who we considered for Heat Check, we both agreed that, without a doubt, Hunt as Anna won the film. If you are the protagonist and are the film’s face, the category is yours to lose. Hunt was marvelous with both her physical performance, singing, and dialogue, not to mention facial expressions that sold parts of the film, that for the most part, were improbable. Hunt exhibits, in Anna, a complex character who wants to break free from her mundane life. As Corinne added, she was brave despite the challenges she met in the pre-apocalypse, and this new start to a zombie world. As Corinne argued, Anna will be last standing and will ultimately win as the signature heroine. Once you add in comedic elements that require precision timing, fantastic choreographed dances, and singing with lyrics that can enlighten, inspire, depress, and reflect, Hunt, as Anna, offers an incredible overall performance. Her vocals on “Break Away” and “I Will Believe” are emotionally moving, even as her tempo for “Turning My Life Around” is exciting and thrilling, added with a beautiful and genuinely amusing dance sequence, as I discussed above. Sign on for the zombie musical apocalypse, but you are staying for Ella Hunt as Anna, and when the movie ends, she, with a bloody candy cane, will remain in your thoughts through the holiday season.
“Nick: We go through here, we might make it to the school before sundown. Plus it’ll be fun. / Steph: Yeah, certain death is so much fun.”– Sarah Swire (Steph) & Ben Wiggins (Nick) in Anna and the Apocalypse
Anna and the Apocalypse is a real gem that combines comedy, horror, holiday fun, and paid appropriate homage to Shaun of the Dead. Even so, it paved its unique path by linking musical numbers with brilliant comedic and horror moments. In a film with a zombie snowman, you get two teenagers in love, both bitten, sharing their final moments of humanity in each other’s arms, yet, now in a zombie state walk, within inches of each other, with no acknowledgment or happy ending. In a movie where the villain is both treacherous and pathetic, your heroine is strong and armed with a sharpened candy cane. It is a film with great dialogue, excellent music, brilliant acting, and has as much Christmas/holiday spirit as Love Actually. Anna and the Apocalypse is on my tv tonight. Maybe now it will be on yours as well.