“Anna and the Apocalypse” and the rise of the genre mashup


John McPhail tackled the genre-hybrid trend with a zombie horror film which is also a musical comedy with a Christmasy vibe. Here’s our take on Edinburgh Film Festival favourite Anna and the Apocalypse and the hybrid genre trend in cinema.

Hybrid genre films have always been a thing. From Jim Sharman’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) to John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (1981), from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) to David Fincher’s Se7en (1995), from  Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) to Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012), directors have been combining genres in cinema for years. And so we were given romance dramas that were also tragedies, satyrical horror films, sci-fi dystopian thrillers with elements of the noir genre and even westerns with aliens. 

As the years went by, our favourite directors kept experimenting and released oh so many seriously weird mashups (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Cowboys and Aliens, Eden Lake… The list goes on), but also the occasional masterpiece. Sci-fi western Back to the Future 3, comedy ghost story Ghostbusters, Tim Burton’s Halloween/Christmas musical The Nightmare Before Christmas are among the most imaginative examples of hybrid genre films that have effectively become part of our pop culture.

Ben Wiggins as Nick (Gerardo Jaconelli/Orion Pictures/Orion Releasing LCC)

These kinds of genre “mashups” are also becoming more popular by the day. This year’s Venice Film Festival line-up confirms the latest trend, as two of the films that will be presented as part of the official competition belong to this genre: Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers (starring Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly and Jake Gyllenhaal) is a dark comedy set in 1951 Oregon, and the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (starring James Franco and Liam Neeson) is a western in six episodes, each belonging to a different genre (check out our article for more information on all 21 films that will be competing at Venice).  

 Anna and the Apocalypse – trailer (Orion Pictures)

Where Do We Go From Here? director John McPhail’s first attempt at tackling the genre hybrid is Anna and the Apocalypse, a teenage comedy/horror/musical/Christmas movie set in a small town called Little Haven during the holidays in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. It begins with classic coming-of-age film material, as the main dilemma appears to be Anna (Ella Hunt)’s decision to go against her father’s wishes by chosing to travel instead of going straight to uni after school, but then takes a different turn as the zombies arrive.

The apocalypse puts Anna’s dreams on hold and brings an equal mix of gory fight scenes and hilarious sequences in addition to the ever-present high school drama, and let’s not forget the Christmas references and, most of all, the music. Because Anna and the Apocalypse is also a musical in the best sense of the word: there’s singing, there’s dancing, there are perfectly timed ensemble numbers with colorful props, captivating choreographies and extremely catchy songs with quality lyrics that you simply won’t be able to get out of your head. 

Ella Hunt, Marli Siu and Christopher Leveaux in Anna and the Apocalypse (Gerardo Jaconelli/Orion Pictures/Orion Releasing LCC)

The presence of all these different genres is Anna and the Apocalypse’ strength, as it makes it an entertaining and highly enjoyable film, but it’s also its weakness. John McPhail’s attempt to make a “hybrid” that belongs to so many genres results in a film whose structure and development makes a lot of sense, but that sometimes lacks an identity of its own.

When Anna cheerfully leaves her house and goes to school completely unaware that she is surrounded by zombies, we can’t help but think of the almost identical (but better) sequence in Edgar Wright’s own “romantic comedy with zombies” – Shaun of the Dead. If you replace Anna’s candy cane with a cricket bat and give her some old records to throw, you will be tempted to start calling her Shaun. 

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Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, 2004 (StudioCanal)

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost aren’t the only actors that come to mind: as the film goes on and more genres are added to the mix, so are the references to other scenes we’ve already seen somewhere else. From the obvious High School Musical to Mean Girls and even Pirates of the Caribbean, the “homages” go on, much so that we start to question the very definition of a homage. After a while, it becomes a struggle to find any new elements that would make Anna and the Apocalypse stand out from all the rest, and that is a real shame.

John McPhail’s zombie musical was a very ambitious project. It might not have turned out to be the most original genre mashup, but it still remains a fun film to watch. It’s not a perfect film as a whole but it’s an excellent musical, and what it lacks in originality it makes up for in acting. Ella Hunt is exceptional as Anna, and so are her “zombie-fighting” co-stars, such as Malcom Cumming (John), whose incredible charisma makes him steal every single scene he’s in, Ben Wiggins (Nick), who makes us change our mind a few times about how much of a “bully” his character really is, Marli Siu (Lisa), Christopher Leveaux (Chris) and Ella Jarvis (Katie),who provide most of the comic relief in the movie, and Sarah Swire (Steph), who not only absolutely owns the difficult role she is given to play, but also choreographed all the dance sequences in the film. 

Sarah Swire as Steph (Gerardo Jaconelli/Orion Pictures/Orion Releasing LCC)

Anna and the Apocalypse will be officially released on November 30, 2018, but you can also catch it at the Glasgow Youth Film Festival (GYFF), where it will be the Opening Film on Friday September 14. The Opening Gala will be followed by a Q&A with some of the cast and crew: follow this link for tickets and more information. 

Mark Benton, Marli Siu, Ella Hunt, Ben Higgins, Sarah Swire and Chris Leveaux at the Edinburgh Film Festival’s Photocall (Courtesy of Edinburgh Film Festival)

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