Hashtag #EvacSelfie

#SGWatch4U is our screen review column where we tackle anything from film to TV/Netflix.

These days, it’s pretty hard to create fresh zombie content. Saturated with scenes of the undead, you find yourself flicking through B-grade movies, quarantine thrillers, and the occasional well-produced action flick (ie. Train to Busan), looking for something new. Because aside from whether they’re fast-running zombies or of the slow, harmless variety, there isn’t much distinguishing one from the other.

But the zom-com (zombie comedy) genre always seems to deliver. The trick, perhaps, is burying an actual storyline of hope and human relationships deep within the rotting corpses, to be surfaced only after two full hours of zombie-slaying gags and chaotic running away. Somewhere in the middle, an emotional breakthrough will pull you closer to the lead character’s complex backstory, lending the film enough weight to set it apart from badly made comedies. It’s why flicks like Warm Bodies (2013) and Zombieland (2009) do so well at the box office; and why the irreverent Shaun of the Dead (2004) continues to be a cult classic today.

So how does a movie take it one step further? Why, by adding song-and-dance and a dash of Christmas cheer, of course. Anna and the Apocalypse takes the small-town, English charm of Shaun of the Dead and mashes it with the 2000s razzle-dazzle of High School Musical, for a goofy feel-good comedy that will have you grinning from start to finish.

Anna and her friends in a scene right out of High School Musical

An adaptation of Scottish film director Ryan McHenry’s BAFTA-winning short Zombie Musical, the film opens in the sleepy town of Little Haven, where students of the local high school are preparing for the annual Christmas production. The protagonist is willowy, wide-eyed Anna (Ella Hunt), with the pipes and demeanour of a British Victoria Justice. She’s a quick-thinking teenager wisened by emotional baggage—some light like a scandalised romance with an ex; some heavier, like missing her mum (who’s passed on) during the holidays.

Still, that doesn’t stop her from nailing her musical cues. Right from the get-go, the cast bursts into choreographed song at spontaneous moments, leaping onto cafeteria tables with the heartfelt gusto of young actors hoping this will be their big break (it won’t). There’s a touch of satirical irony in how vanilla the whole thing is, but then again, that sets the perfect backdrop for the zombie slaying to juxtapose with. After a day of spontaneous singing, which must be tiring, Anna goes home to life with her widowed father; and in just one night, the whole town falls into an apocalypse.

As with any zombie movie, there’s a core A-team that will have to fight corpses and carry us through the film’s events—before they’re gradually picked off, one by one, to join the living dead. Anna’s is her best female friend and boyfriend, her friend-zoned best male friend, a lesbian outcast, and her aforementioned ex. The action cuts back and forth between two groups—Anna’s, and a group of survivors who’ve barricaded themselves inside the school. Amongst them is Anna’s father, who also happens to be the school janitor; so she spends the rest of the film fighting to get to him.

Here you’ve got all the classic genre tropes—noble sacrifices, twisted pro-zombie villains—with some genuinely unexpected surprises (hint: it has to do with the noble sacrifices). There’s also enough blood and gore to keep conventional zombie horror fans appeased, and the film spares no emotional expense with the rising body count. Weaved in seamlessly are some classic false-alarm jump scares; again, very reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead.

Most commendable, though, is the original soundtrack of 13 genuinely catchy tunes, with decent lyrics that strike a rare balance between specificity to the scene, and being universally relatable. Songs like “What A Time To Be Alive” are cheeky enough without being too cheesy. Plus, it’s hard to hate when Anna and her best friend duet joyously about a beautiful brand new day the morning of the apocalypse.

The ending is predictable enough, but coated with enough sugar from the all the singing and dancing to keep you from feeling annoyed. Director John McPhail should never work this choreographer again, but all in all, Anna and the Apocalypse is enjoyable—a solid throwback to 2000s era of high school-centric comedies, and a nice escape from reality as the year winds to an end. It’s a Christmas miracle that someone finally decided to marry zombies, music and teenage hormones. And you’d best bet we’re already streaming the soundtrack on Spotify.

Anna and the Apocalypse opens in Shaw Theatres Dec 13. Rated M18.