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With: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins, Marli Siu, Mark Benton, Paul Kaye
Written by: Alan McDonald, Ryan McHenry
Directed by: John McPhail
MPAA Rating: R for zombie violence and gore, language, and some sexual material
Running Time: 97
Date: 11/30/2018

Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Gingerbread of the Dead

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Both the tone and the songs become a little melancholy as the movie goes along, but this frequently exuberant Christmas-zombie-musical is wonderfully creative, and has a touching emotional center.

In Anna and the Apocalypse, several high schoolers deal with their day-to-day problems. Anna (Ella Hunt) wants to travel to Australia after high school, but her widowed dad (Mark Benton) — the janitor at her school — is against the idea. Her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming) is secretly in love with her, and her ex-boyfriend Nick (Ben Wiggins) is an obnoxious bully.

Another friend, Steph (Sarah Swire), is a sophisticated lesbian who has been left on her own just before Christmastime by both her parents and her girlfriend. At least cabaret-style singer Lisa (Marli Siu) and her film geek boyfriend Chris (Christopher Leveaux) seem to be happy.

But everything changes when the zombies come. Four of the friends must try to get across town back to the high school, where their loved ones have remained holed up since the big Christmas show. But another problem lies in the sadistic headmaster (Paul Kaye), who doesn't mind if the brains of a few students wind up as zombie food.

Dreamed up by a handful of fresh-faced newcomers, Anna and the Apocalypse features a batch of new songs, the most delightful of which are doled out in the first half-hour, although the amiable singing and dancing generally carries the later, sadder, darker ones through. (Only a vicious shriek-fest, sung by Kaye's villain, stops things dead for a time.) The zombie violence is mostly old hat, but there are a few clever new slayings, especially those taking place in a bowling alley and one involving a see-saw.

Of its triple-threat, Christmas is less present than the songs or zombies, or less so than in something like The Nightmare Before Christmas. Holiday imagery is used in twisted, subversive ways, such as Anna's choice of a candy cane (with a sharp end point) as a weapon, a Christmas tree on fire, or a big prop star in the stage performance. An ugly holiday sweater is also a highlight.

But aside from any gimmicks or genre-switching, what really comes through in Anna and the Apocalypse is a sense that the characters have genuine troubles, that they genuinely care for one another, and that death actually means something. Viewers may have expected to laugh and sing but may be surprised at having been moved.

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