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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 April 2019

Review: 'Anna and the Apocalypse' brings plenty of Christmas fear

The Christmas zombie musical offers flesh-eating festive fun

Ella Hunt as Anna decapitates zombies with a candy cane. Courtesy Front Row Filmed Entertainment
Ella Hunt as Anna decapitates zombies with a candy cane. Courtesy Front Row Filmed Entertainment

Back in 2010, director Ryan McHenry received a Bafta nomination for his comedy short Zombie Musical. The director was inspired by seeing a trailer for High School Musical and surmising that the only way he would enjoy the film would be “if the whole cast was eaten by zombies”. An idea was born, and the film was picked up for McHenry to turn into a feature.

In the meantime, McHenry also became an internet sensation with his bizarre, 2013, Vine series Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal. Things were looking good.

By 2015, McHenry had a script, and was well under way on development of the movie. Then, he died from cancer aged just 27.

McHenry’s long-term friend and producer, Naysun Alae-Carew, vowed not to let the project die with him, and eventually up-and-coming Scottish director, John McPhail, was attached to the film. This weekend, McHenry finally gets the tribute he deserves: A Christmas zombie musical.

True to its creator’s vision, the film comes across very much as what would happen if the entire cast of High School Musical were eaten by zombies. Anna (Ella Hunt) and her school friends engage in big ensemble song and dance numbers, and they are interspersed with flesh chomping. When the evil, child-hating headmaster (Paul Kaye) gives these kids, and their parents, a unique form of detention locked in a room full of the brain-eating undead, you know The Breakfast Club had it easy.

Zombies and comedy have been interlinked ever since Sam Raimi unleashed The Evil Dead on the world back in 1981. This film certainly isn’t up to those hallowed standards, though it’s similarly low-budget fare, or even the standards of the best of the more recent releases such as Edgar Wright’s 2004 Shaun of the Dead or Alejandro Brugues’s 2010 Cuban tribute, Juan of the Dead, but it’s still enjoyably daft festive fare.

While the film, by rights, should be outright ridiculous, sometimes the big dance scenes are just played with a bit too much of a straight face, the emotive character relationships dwelled on for a little too long.

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I’d normally be the last to call out “unnecessary character development”, but come on, this is a Christmas zombie musical – one of you is decapitating hordes of the undead with a candy cane, and the rest of you are probably going to get eaten alive anyway – let’s leave the complex backstories and parent issues for another film.

Perhaps the director played it a little too close to the script out of respect, and perhaps McHenry himself had a slightly different idea of how it would actually carry onto the screen. We’ll never know, but sometimes the overly serious tone just seems a little out of step with the ludicrousness of the whole enterprise.

Nonetheless, with the festive competition in cinemas this weekend made up of The Christmas Elf and Little Miss Doolittle, I’ll take the zombies, with a side order of zombies.

Updated: December 19, 2018 09:06 PM

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