A zombie comedy set at Christmastime... with a female protagonist.... and it’s a musical? A movie could hardly be more directly targeted at me, which makes it all the more disappointing that I must report that Anna and the Apocalypse is simply not very good at all. It’s not scary, it’s not funny, and in fact it’s pretty amateurish for a film getting a mainstream release.
Writers Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry and director John McPhail (his second feature) are clearly desperate to evoke Shaun of the Dead with their tale of high-schooler Anna (Ella Hunt) coping with an array of the usual teen angst — nobody understands her, etc — amidst an outbreak of the walking undead in her small British town. (Shaun wanted to get to his mom when disaster struck; Anna wants to reach her dad. Shaun and his friends holed up in a pub; Anna and her friends hide out in a bowling alley.) But unlike Shaun, there’s no greater metaphor for human existence at play in this brains-eating end-of-the-world, and no entertaining irony to be found anywhere.
This is a short film — just over an hour and a half — but it feels endless. The characters are one-note, and there’s barely even a story for them to enact, just a bunch of things happening one after another. The whole shebang trundles along on one flat emotional level, with no rise and fall to whatever feeling it’s trying to arouse; it never earns any of its would-be sentiment. This goes for the songs, too, which are mostly blah when they aren’t dumb time-fillers. One tune, “Hollywood Ending,” is almost catchy and almost has something interesting to say about how movies mislead us into expecting more and better than reality will ever deliver. But it is more than overshadowed by the awful “Soldier at War,” in which jerk teen boys sing joyously about killing zombies. The movie approves of their glee at the apocalyptic stamp of approval for their violence.
Worst of all, Anna is pure cipher, a feminine “mystery” created by male filmmakers: Why is she attracted to absolute asshole Nick (Ben Wiggins) — he’s the “Soldier at War” — while her best friend, “nice guy” John (Malcolm Cumming), must wallow in unappreciated worship of her? For real with this shit? I cannot.
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