Oh the weather outside is frightful…
[“Anna and the Apocalypse” is the first film of my “5 Queer Christmas Films for 2021” post. To read the next review, “Too Cool For Christmas”, click HERE.]
Comedy, Musical, and … Horror? In a Christmas Film? Huh? Normally these three distinctly different genres don’t work together at all. However, there’s something really unique about “Anna and the Apocalypse” – it’s actually quite captivating! With various hints of another zombie classic, “Shawn of the Dead”, it just works well as a whole. The film is bright and colourful, despite being about killing zombies. Even as a musical, the film’s songs fit well and are performed by a vocally talented cast. Yet something still has me reserved to give “Anna and the Apocalypse a 5.0 / 5.0 rating. Keep reading to find out why.
Synopsis of “Anna and the Apocalypse”
Detailed synopsis… to be written…
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.
As I noted in the into, something pulls me back – yet I cannot figure out what that is. Even when I watch “Anna and the Apocalypse” with a harsh critical eye, very little jumps out at me as wrong. Even though nearly all of the songs are easily forgettable afterwards, they’re mostly well-written and performed well. Perhaps it’s the fact that our queer character is just one of the ensemble, a supporting actress at best? Even that doesn’t quite seem to fit the bill. Overall, I think it’s just so unexpected to have a Christmas horror film that even though it is very well done, I cannot see it as a “Christmas” film. Is this reason to knock off half a rating? I saw it is, because it’s a film that is hard to place in any of the genres – despite being a great film.
For the reticence that I have giving “Anna and the Apocalypse” a full 5.0 / 5.0 rating, overall the film is very well done. The plot is very reminiscent of the zombie horror trope, but set at Christmas time. This alone adds that unique new twist that elevates it above other zombie films. And the zombie/horror element certainly sets this film apart from all of the other Christmas trope films! However, also woven into the plot are themes of family, loss of family, having to make and cope with hard decisions, and more. For example, Anna longs to escape her hometown and her father yet when the zombie apocalypse begins, all she cares about is getting to her dad. In a converse situation, her dad initially detests Anna’s plan to defer going off to school. Yet by the end, and perhaps a bit influenced by the zombies overrunning the town, he wishes Anna his best and tells her to leave him. Another similar example is Nick () having to kill his own father, at his father’s wishes even, in order to become strong enough to survive. Plus, you have many of the usual teenage school debacles & issues to bring plenty of variety to this ensemble film.
Let’s not overlook that nearly every role was cast perfectly – and by a cast who can sing! Well, I have to admit that Paul Kaye cannot really sing, however his speak-singing actually fits well for the twisted and sadistic headmaster. And the role is performed deliciously, becoming the headmaster we all would hate, following every rule to the letter only to eventually be the guy who would turn the apocalypse to his own diabolical advantage. Contrast his antagonist character to Anna, portrayed by Ella Hunt and is actually quite a talented actress! Her emotional journey is at the heart of the film’s story. We can see her overall character arc from struggling with everything in her life at the beginning to eventually becoming the bad-ass, pissed off girl who WILL save her dad!
Since “Anna and the Apocalypse” is also a musical, we cannot overlook the songs themselves. My favourite song has to be “Break Away” as it hauntingly recounts Anna, John (Malcolm Cumming), and the other kid’s desires to get away from the lives they feel trapped in. But after that though it’s hard to decide between Nick’s surprisingly beautiful tenor voice during “Soldier at War” or Lisa’s seductively suggestive “It’s That Time of Year” during the school pageant. I mean, who can resist topless male backup dancers! But the overlooked part of the songs are that they all progress the story forward or take us on an internal soliloquy; exactly the goal for songs in a musical.
However, I think it’s the last part of the film that helps keep everything on a high. Visually, it’s stunning! While Scotland in the winter is normally dreary and grey, the Christmas decorations actually help make the colours become vibrant and pop even more. And, to put it simply, the constant splatter of bright red blood oddly helps keep the colour scheme fun! The pacing is a bit slow at times, except it’s also rather realistic. Waiting for night to end while the zombies are walking around outside is a long & tiring aspect – we get that as a viewer as certain scenes are dragged out a bit longer than normal. When combined with some excellently framed shots, add in the musical numbers, “Anna and the Apocalypse” is actually quite a spectacle!
What do you think, does a horror film work for Christmas? I’m personally on the fence on that decision, but there is no doubt that “Anna and the Apocalypse” is a great film to watch. Probably not one to cuddle up by the fireside to get into the Christmas spirit though! With a talented cast, the quirkiness of a musical, and a story that puts a new twist on zombies, I think you’ll enjoy giving this queer Christmas film a watch.
Queer Relevance of “Anna and the Apocalypse”
Perhaps the only unfortunate aspect about “Anna and the Apocalypse”, and perhaps the other reason why this film just doesn’t sit right with me overall, is that our only queer character is a supporting role. And while we know that Steph (Sarah Swire) is a lesbian because of her stress, and then later worry, about her girlfriend – we never actually see anything that screams “I am a lesbian” or “I am a queer character.” Chris and Lisa make out every time they’re together, John is always flirting with his crush Anna, and even Nick and Anna have their moment to reflect on their own sexual history. But never do we see any romantic actions for Steph; it’s almost as if they didn’t want the fact that she’s a lesbian to be noticeable…
“Anna and the Apocalypse” is still a queer Christmas film. While Steph is only a supporting character, she is one of the three who survive and her character is rather crucial to that fact. I just wish that they actually showed something that queer folks can look towards, rather than a couple lines about an offscreen girlfriend.