Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
★ / ★★★★
A question: If there are zombies right outside and it is your intention to make a quick getaway with an automobile, would you put the car keys into your backpack where it could get lost among other items or right in your pocket for easy access? The answer is obvious, but the Christmas-themed zombie musical comedy “Anna and the Apocalypse,” written by Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry, has a habit of playing dumb—real dumb—that the experience of sitting through it is a trial to be endured. It assumes that viewers do not possess more than five functioning brain cells and so we find ourselves five to ten steps ahead of it throughout its relatively short running time of ninety minutes. It is a complete waste of time.
For a musical, the majority of the songs not only sound the same, they are often about the same thing: alienated British teenagers who long for a life outside of high school. One wishes to travel, another looks forward to art school, a couple looks forward to taking their relationship to the next level. Due to the lack of variation, by the fourth or fifth song, I caught myself groaning inside—a way to mentally prepare my brain to try and process yet another one-dimensional two- to three-minute song.
There is one exception: a song called “It’s That Time of Year” performed by Lisa (Marli Siu), half of an enamored couple, during a holiday show at school. Parents watch wide-eyed. “There’s a lack of presents in my stocking / And my chimney needs a good unblocking”—it’s a dirty song and it is perfect for two reasons: it breaks the boredom and it fits the mindset of many teenagers at that age. If only the rest of the songs were as cheeky or well thought out.
The titular character is a complete bore. Although Ella Hunt plays Anna with some energy during dancing sequences, when the music stops and Anna is meant to connect with her friends, there is a desperate lack of chemistry. It were as if the actors had forgotten how it was like to be in high school. But more deserving of critique is the pallid writing. There is nothing cinematic or relatable about it. Compare the dialogue to the most awful Disney movies meant for television and notice the stench of mediocrity becoming all the more apparent. It does not possess an ear for dialogue; I didn’t even get the impression that the writers actually liked their subjects.
It is a poor survival horror film. Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead” is perhaps its biggest inspiration, particularly the sequence in which Anna wakes up, steps outside, and fails to notice that her suburban neighborhood has gone to hell. But the difference between this picture and Wright’s modern classic is that the latter has an understanding of ramping up tension, the love for its characters can be felt at every one-time joke as well as recurring jokes, and there is dramatic gravity behind the fates of its characters. Here, when a character dies, it is met with a shrug and sentimental music. We are supposed to be moved while feeling cheated.
I would have enjoyed to have gotten to know more about Anna’s relationship with John (Malcolm Cumming). It is implied that the two have been best friends since they were children. But reliable, goofy, nice guy John is beginning to regard her as more than a friend. Anna notices. I felt the screenwriters’ fear and reluctance to tell this story—strange, and disappointing, because it is the heart of the picture. I believe the writers choose not to dig deeply into the friendship because they are not interested in characters, just blood and guts. Look at how there is more thought put into how a blood must squirt onto walls than how a friendship is navigated. The movie is not only without brain, it is also without soul.