The genre mash-up is having a bit of a moment. We see it happening all across film, music, and TV. R&B beats are powering country songs now. TV shows which claim to be comedies have more in common with prestige dramas than the sitcoms of old. Netflix Original Movies regularly walk the line between being one kind of genre or another, picking up the baton from the indie films of old.
This often leaves us challenged to know how to properly categorize pop culture, and the result is that disparate audiences are being drawn together as their interests cross-pollinate in ways we’ve never seen before. The intermingling isn’t always to everyone’s liking. Two great flavors, some would argue, don’t always go great together.
Take, for example, Anna and the Apocalypse, a Glee-meets-Shaun of the Dead zombie musical that also happens to be set during the Christmas season. Produced on the cheap in Scotland off of government grants and private financing, this 2017 cult favorite about high school seniors battling a zombie apocalypse is a full-on musical. Characters routinely break out into song. Unlike Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Once More with Feeling,” which is an obvious influence, there is no effort made to come up with an in-universe explanation for their random singing or to hang a lantern on how weird it is. That’s because Anna and the Apocalypse isn’t about to apologize for being a musical.
(Note: Just to be clear, the above video takes one of the film’s songs and superimposes the lyrics over the scene from the film. In the actual movie, there are no words flying on the screen like that.)
At the same time, however, Anna and the Apocalypse is a right and proper zombie movie, with blood splatter aplenty and many limbs lost. Characters we really, really like do not survive. Anyone who knows their Day of the Dead from Dawn of the Dead will recognize more than a couple of obvious homages.
This, to be fair, is not the first time anyone has ever thought to mashup these two genres. According to Zombies: An Illustrated History of the Undead, Japan alone has produced multiple films that could be called zombie musicals. Wild Zero (Japan’s answer to Rock ‘n’ Roll High School), The Happiness of the Katakuris (Night of the Living Dead meets Sound of Music), and Battlefield Baseball (defies description, really) each qualify. So too, according to Bloody-Disgusting, does Matthew Leutwyler’s 2004 film Dead & Breakfast.
That’s probably not enough to call the zombie musical a full-on mini-genre. It happens so rarely that it’s still the type of thing that catches audiences off guard, but it would seem like musical and zombie movie lovers should have a lot in common here. They are both, after all, devotees of heightened realities built on a not-small amount of ridiculousness. However, I’ve heard more than a few horror fans reject Anna and the Apocalypse simply because they don’t like musicals.
To that I say, give the movie 17 minutes, and see how you respond to the sight of two star-crossed high school students dancing down the streets of their respective neighborhoods while belting out lines like “Not letting anybody bring me down/I’m ready for turning my life around”, completely oblivious to the zombie mayhem which snuck up overnight and is overtaking everything behind them. At one point, pedestrians in the background try to turn into background dancers, as students at the high school did during an earlier, pre-zombie musical number, but it’s kind of hard to stick to a dance choreography when zombies are after you.
If none of that does it for you, by all means, move on. However, if that sounds like it falls right into your wheelhouse then stick it out for the rest of the film because that’s just the tip of Anna and the Apocalypse’s inventiveness. You’ll find one of the more delightful zom-coms in recent memory.
Now, to fill out the 31 Days of Halloween form I’ve been doing all month: Anna and the Apocalypse.
What’s It About?
Anna (Ella Hunt), John (Malcolm Cummings), Steph (a scene-stealing Sarah Swire), Chris (Christopher Leveaux), and Lisa (Marli Siu) are your average small-town high school students. Anna is still dealing with the death of her mother and longs to travel the world before going to college. John just wants Anna to see him as anything more than a friend. Steph, an aspiring journalist, is proudly out of the closet but feels emotionally abandoned by her unseen girlfriend and literally abandoned by her constantly-traveling parents. Chris and Lisa – he the aspiring filmmaker, her the hopeful actress – are too wrapped up in each other to care about anything else. In short, they have a lot of their own high school drama to work through.
On the night of the big school Christmas concert, Anna and John can’t get out of their shifts at the local bowling alley, and Chris and Steph head out to film a human interest story and can’t make it back to school in time to hear Lisa’s big seductive number which puts “Santa Baby” to shame. (“Filth. Pure pornography,” seethes the irate school Headmaster). When a zombie apocalypse breaks out overnight, they all end up on different sides of town and have to hack, slash, and, yes, sing their way through their newly dystopic world to get back to each other and their other loved ones.
Or, to put it another way, Glee meets Shaun of the Dead
Why I Watched It
I liked Glee, or at least half of the first season. I love Shaun of the Dead. Put the two together? Sounds great. Plus, before taking in the new zom-com Little Monsters on Hulu, which debuted to solid reviews at Sundance earlier this year, I wanted to finally check out the Anna and the Apocalypse, which I’ve been hearing raves about for over a year.
Did I Like It?
This is easily one of my favorites from this 31 Days of Halloween so far. It ticks so many boxes for me, and I say that as someone who likes, but does not love musicals. Still, the songs are all catchy, many of them filled with rather clever lyrical flourishes. Lisa’s “It’s That Time of Year,” in particular, is a nonstop barrage of fun double entendres, like a Walk Hard Dewey Cox song. Examples include “My chimney needs a good unblocking” and “There’s only one gift that I wanna unwrap” and, my personal favorite, “Tie those reindeer up/’Cause you may be a while/And I know what’ll make you smile.”
However, for a film with such whimsy Anna and the Apocalypse does not at all forget that it has “apocalypse” in its title. The plot turns increasingly bleak as the deaths piles up. The sign of a stupid-fun horror movie is when you cheer death scenes, but the sign of an actually well-written, thoughtout horror movie is when the death scenes make you sad. It should hurt to lose characters along the way, and Anna and the Apocalypse certainly knows how to pull that off. Most of the characters broadly adhere to John Hughes teen movie stereotypes, but they are all so likable and mostly sweet-natured that it’s a joy to be with them and sucks to lose any of them.
My only criticism would be that even at just 93-minutes long the film occasionally feels a tad strained. Expanding the novel concept of a zombie musical and all of the characters’ high school drama into a feature-length film is certainly a challenging ordeal and to paraphrase Alyson Hannigan from “Once More With Feeling” a couple of the songs – especially “Human Voice” – feel like mostly filler.
Did It Scare Me?
No, though don’t let the musical part of this horror-musical fool you. There is plenty of gore and other horror material played for scares.
Where to Stream
According to JustWatch: “Currently you are able to watch Anna and the Apocalypse streaming on Epix. It is also possible to buy Anna and the Apocalypse on FandangoNOW, PlayStation, Vudu, Microsoft Store, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Apple iTunes, Redbox as download or rent it on PlayStation online.”
31 Days of Halloween So Far:
- Day 1: One Cut of the Dead
- Day 2: Effects
- Day 3: Microwave Massacre
- Day 4: The Wind
- Day 5: Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
- Day 6: Black Cat (1981)
- Day 7: In the Tall Grass
- Day 8: Creepshow (2019)
- Day 9: Thirst (1979)
- Day 10: Near Dark
Next Up: Lupita Nyong’o sings her way through a different kind of zombie apocalypse.