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Anna and the Apocalypse review - all-singing, all-dancing, brain-bashing zomcom

The Guardian logo The Guardian 04/12/2018 Cath Clarke

This good-natured Scottish horror movie set in a rundown secondary school adds a potentially hellish new dimension to the zomcom mash-up: song and dance numbers, High School Musical-style. It just about gets away it, coasting on cheerfully gruesome zombie kills and some decent jokes – in response to the threat of flesh eaters wiping out civilisation, the hashtag #evacselfie goes viral as self-absorbed teenagers post photos of themselves pouting in front of cages of shambling zombies.

Related: Spawn of the dead: a history of strange zombie movie mashups

The joke at the start of Shaun of the Dead is that it’s impossible to tell the difference between a dead-eyed commuter and an actual dead zombie. Anna and the Apocalypse pinches a lot from that movie but misses the obvious gag: that society already sees teenagers as the living dead, lumpen, grunting and prone to spreading nasty infections. Ella Hunt is Anna, a super-bright overachieving sixth-former who’s working at the local bowling alley on the night the assault begins, and must bash zombie brains across town to reach school, where her caretaker dad is on duty at the Christmas talent show. Paul Kaye gives a flashy performance as power-hungry deputy head Mr Savage, channelling evil Jarvis Cocker in a brown tweed suit. Conveniently, whenever anyone bursts into song, the zombies take a break from flesh chomping – who knows, maybe showtunes have been the secret weapon in battling the undead all along?

Some American critics have been swept up by Anna and the Apocalypse’s goofy charm. I couldn’t help feeling that it’s not quite fully attuned to the way of teenagers, unlike, say, Attack the Block or John Hughes’s Breakfast Club; plus it doesn’t help that it’s set in Scotland but many of the accents are English. There’s a terribly sad real-life story behind the movie; it’s based on a short by gifted writer-director Ryan McHenry, who died at 27 from a form of bone cancer before he could direct the feature film – he shares the writing credit here with Alan McDonald.

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