Blending comedy and horror may seem like an unusual pairing, but movies such as Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein,” Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice,” and Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” have successfully intertwined these genres. While films like Burton’s “Sweeney Todd” and Frank Oz’s “Little Shop of Horrors” have touched on this unique mix, few have embraced the fusion of humor and horror as boldly as John McPhail’s Christmas-themed zombie comedy, “Anna and the Apocalypse.”
The central character, Anna (played by Ella Hunt), is a high school senior eager to embark on a gap year before college to explore beyond her Scottish hometown, as long as her overprotective dad (Mark Benton) doesn’t interfere. After school, she works at a bowling alley with her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming), who keeps his feelings for her under wraps. They share their schoolyard frustrations with the couple Chris (Christopher Leveaux) and Lisa (Marli Siu) and inadvertently connect with Steph (Sarah Swire), an American student and campus activist dealing with a recent breakup and a lonely Christmas.
However, their everyday concerns fade into insignificance the following morning when a zombie apocalypse unfolds. Anna and John encounter their first undead creature on their way to school and seek refuge in their bowling alley, where they reunite with Chris and Steph. The participants in the school’s Christmas show, including Anna’s dad and Lisa, lock themselves in the cafeteria under the strict orders of Principal Savage (Paul Kaye). Now, the group must reunite with their loved ones at school before it’s too late.
“Anna and the Apocalypse” draws parallels with Edgar Wright’s zombie comedy, “Shaun of the Dead.” Both films revel in creatively dispatching zombies, finding humorous ways for the protagonists to fight back. McPhail pays tribute to Wright with stylistic nods, such as a montage of the group hastily driving away.
The film’s numerous pop songs contribute to its lively spirit, reminiscent of a more rebellious “High School Musical.” Teens sing about not fitting in or unreciprocated feelings, and while some transitions to song might be a tad abrupt, the eccentricity of certain numbers induces laughter. The movie’s playful nature extends to its cinematography, transitioning between vibrant Christmas show stages and the grimness of the zombie invasion. The visual contrasts amplify the unique blend of death, destruction, high kicks, and high notes.
Despite budget limitations, “Anna and the Apocalypse” compensates with its spirited execution. Featuring catchy songs, clever jokes amid suspenseful moments, and a committed ensemble, the film is a treat for the midnight movie crowd—equally prone to breaking into song as celebrating each zombie kill. It’s a rare horror movie that leaves you with a dose of holiday cheer.