Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Anna And The Apocalypse (2018) - Movie Review


https://redribbonreviewers.wordpress.com/Movies like this make me love this job. Not just because they give a lot of material to work with for a review, but also because this kind of high-concept storytelling makes it remarkably to sum up why this film is worth watching: It’s a Scottish Christmas zombie musical comedy. And the best part is that, while that kind of five-car genre pile-up works so well at selling the movie that writing a review may seem pointless, there is actually something quite special at the heart of this production. But all in good time; let’s get into this truly wondrous film.

Genre mash-ups of this calibre aren’t exactly new; I mean, Edgar Wright has basically made an entire career out of taking seemingly-disparate varieties of cinema and splicing them together. However, the key to making this kind of cinematic stew truly work is to make sure that all the individual pieces work in their own right. No use making a stew with subpar ingredients, right? So, to start off, the music is incredibly solid. While it bobs and weaves into different styles like rap, rock and even a bit of jazz, it’s all pretty poppy.

It hits a lot of familiar niches for musicals, like giving the villain his own song and having the lyrics mean different things depending on which character is singing, even if they’re the same lyrics, but it wields the shimmering Christmas aesthetic to create a pretty toe-tapping collection of tunes. It even takes shots at the genre of Christmas music itself, through the hilariously vulgar It’s That Time Of Year which takes the ‘love song to Santa’ cliché and turns it into comedy gold.

So, what about the zombies? Well, the gore effects are quite nice, the action beats around them are engaging, and there’s something about the lead’s weapon of choice in a sharpened oversized candy cane that serves as the visual proof of concept that leaves a real badass impression. However, this goes in a different direction to a lot of zombie flicks nowadays. Where the majority tends to view the shambling dead as the means for guilt-free cathartic violence, this film makes it a point to keep their former humanity well in mind. In the film’s own words, it’s stopped being fun, and that’s because it’s not presented as something fun. It’s presented as something heartbreakingly vital to preserve one’s own life, and with how many characters have to do away with their own loved ones, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the tragedy of it all.

And as a Christmas movie, it does an amazingly good job at giving a nicely balanced depiction of the season. It’s shown as the most joyous time of the year, almost to a threateningly naïve degree, but it also highlights the uncomfortable truth about that very idea: Just because the calendar has decreed that this is the time for joy and happiness doesn’t mean that’s what’s going to happen. Life gets in the way of everything, no matter how hard some may try to avoid that, and there’s one thing that sums up the reality of Christmas, it is stress. It is irritation. It is that back-of-the-head feeling that you’re being pressured to enjoy yourself… even though you’d much rather not be forced to feel good just because you’re expected to. Bad things still happen regardless of the time of year, from heartbreak to fearing about the future to the zombie apocalypse… to discovering that you have cancer.

Yeah, sorry to bring the mood down there, but this is what I was talking about regarding the heart of this film. Or, more specifically, the guy who came up with this concept in the first place: Co-writer Ryan McHenry. Back in 2011, he wrote and directed a short called Zombie Musical; you can find on his YouTube channel here. It went on to garner reasonable acclaim, did the awards circuit, and Ryan himself would go on to give Vine one of its most memorable memes in the ‘Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal’ series. He was also diagnosed with osteosarcoma in 2013, and even though he was well-aware of his chances, he still managed to star down death with a wide-eyed grin. But even with all that positivity, he sadly passed away in May of 2015, with this film being dedicated to his memory.

Honestly, looking at how this entire production turned out, “being positive in the face of certain death” is essentially this film’s main conceit. The triumphant air of the music combined with how the zombies are viewed as an unfortunate result of the world’s pain and apathy makes for a call to not let the world get you down. Completely ignoring the darkness isn’t the best idea, but neither is letting it consume you until you become part of it. Through this, the film goes beyond just being a glorious collision of genres that end up complementing each other quite nicely, and becomes a genuine holiday film. One that warms the heart through sheer audacity, but also through a streak of positivity that is more infectious than any zombie plague.

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