Scottish Christmas zombie teen musical ‘Anna and the Apocalypse’ wows Fantastic Fest

Justin Jones

“High School Musical” meets British horror-comedy “Shaun of the Dead” in “Anna and the Apocalypse,” a frequently hilarious and often-touching musical set in the zombie apocalypse.

You would be forgiven for dismissing “Anna” right off the bat, as the premise is innately ridiculous and gives the impression that it would quickly devolve into pure farce. From the opening number, director John McPhail makes it clear this is not the case by wholeheartedly embracing teen musical tropes rather than making fun of them.

The first half-hour or so is rather refreshing, as it’s simply a well-executed musical comedy about the struggles of high school — something that rarely exists outside of the Disney Channel. A large ensemble cast of virtually unknown, brilliant singers and actors shine in this opening act. Led by Ella Hunt as stubborn, aspirational high school senior Anna, every performance is wonderful, effectively delivering an emotive performance while periodically breaking into song.

When the world begins falling to pieces, it matters — McPhail takes the time to flesh out the film’s characters in the opening act, which imbues “Anna” with an urgency that rarely exists even in the best “serious” zombie films. It does not shy away from the fact that it is a zombie film, however, and provides gore-packed scenes of kills and thrills that just happen to be set to upbeat showtunes.

Writers Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry celebrate the movie’s Christmastime setting through zombie snowmen, blood-soaked candy canes and a laugh-out-loud double-entendre song about Santa’s “presents.” Confidently written from beginning to end, McDonald and McHenry mix humor with surprisingly competent drama, jumping quickly from gut-busting hilarity to heartbreaking deaths of lovable characters.

Every aspect of teen musical-zombie film “Anna and the Apocalypse” is an absolute home run. It effortlessly combines seemingly incompatible genres, while never becoming a parody of either; it takes everything great about the two and fits them into one bizarre, wonderful film.

  • “Anna and the Apocalypse"
  • Rating: Not yet rated
  • Runtime: 107 minutes
  • Score: 4.5/5 stars