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Fantastic Fest: ‘Anna and the Apocalypse’

“Well, we all just deserve to go extinct.”

If you’re looking for the definitive zombie apocalypse Christmas musical, Anna and the Apocalypse is the film for you. Justin Bieber’s turned into a zombie, y’all!

As finite as a descriptor that is, Anna really is worth the price of admission. It’s more than a niche fluff piece, it should also become the definitive high school musical. From beginning to end, it gives vibes that were meant to put High School Musical to shame. Ironically, director John McPhail said that was part of the inspiration for the project started by the late creator of the “Ryan Gosling won’t eat his cereal” meme, Ryan McHenry.

Imagine how great the Disney trilogy would have been if Zac Efron was killing zombies instead of contemplating the importance of basketball. You get Anna and the Apocalypse- a hundred minutes of pure bliss as a motley crew of high schoolers sing their way through their English town to save themselves and their parents.

It doesn’t come without its hiccups, of course. The first act is littered with youth-cinema tropes. A contentious relationship between a rebellious daughter (Anna played by Ella Hunt) and her helicopter father. Anna’s best friend John (Malcolm Cumming) is in love with her and surprise, there’s a polarizing, competitive ex-boyfriend, Nick (Christopher Leveaux). And no school about to be under attack by zombies would be complete without a power-hungry headmaster, Savage (Paul Kaye).

Top that off with an opening number about finding happiness in this volatile moment of life, things get off to a by-the-book start. But for all that negativity, it all comes together rather quickly as the tropes become send-ups rather than copout characterizations, all enhanced by epic numbers that capture both Christmas spirit and high school madness at once. They’d probably do well on their own and even verge on Lonely Island territory on occasion (“That Time of Year” would be a chart-topper with Andy Samberg behind it.)

Moments like one of the opening songs of how if this was a movie, things would end nicely are truly brilliant meta moments. Of course, this is a movie and it ends without that Hollywood ending. Sure, misanthropes would say it could have gone further south but there’s something to be said about killing off a handful of favorite characters. There’s no agenda to rid its world with the deplorables. The zombie apocalypse doesn’t have time for petty arguments or vendettas.

It’s often said in writing and film circles that you’re not done until you cut out your favorite parts. McPhail plays by the recommendation and sticks with it and even our titular character’s life is put in true jeopardy. Even better, danger isn’t just created by dumb mistakes that often befall horror films.

And through the slashing, dancing and singing it becomes abundantly clear Hunt is a bonafide star in the making, playing Anna with equal parts vulnerability and assuredness, leading Anna through this unique setting for a coming of age story.

Ultimately, you’ll leave with at least one earworm. There’s something for everyone, even the somehow connected-MP3 player duet Anna and John share as the dawn of the apocalypse circles around them. As long as you detach yourself from reality and live by this world’s rules that allows for zombie roaming, it’s just a hell of a good time.


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Junior journalism and film student at Baylor University. Formerly rambled at Rope of Silicon, currently a part-time sports wordsmith and full-time cinephile. I sometimes say funny things. ...This was not one of those times

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