Off the top of your head have you ever wondered when the next zombie Christmas musical would launch for your seasonal enjoyment? Well, one would have to look no further than the John McPhail (“Where Do We Go From Here?”) directed Anna and the Apocalypse, a festive zom-com spectacle with a sense of bloody cheekiness. Admittedly original for a horrific holiday hoot, McPhail’s off-kilter Scottish musical plays a delightful naughty note for those looking to celebrate the end-of-the-year seasonal greetings with an (un)deadly bang.
The premise for Anna and the Apocalypse, which plays out like a a kooky combination of “Shaun of the Dead” meets “High School Musical,” is admittedly basic: High school senior Anna (Ella Hunt, “The More You Ignore Me”) and her diverse friends are forced to step into high gear as they attempt to protect their small Scottish community of Little Haven from blood-thirsty zombies. It is Christmastime and the holiday cheers turn into shattering jeers when the aforementioned undead — many decked out in Santa, elf and snowmen costumes — threaten the livelihood of those close to heroine Anna and her crew. Curiously though, the high schoolers break out in song whenever they need to express their feelings at any given moment. So what do you know . . . teen angst gift-wrapped in song and slaughter!
Anna has become quite weary in her final year of high school and cannot wait until her senior year is over. She finds great discomfort getting along with her father (Mark Benton, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”) in addition to her other typical teenaged angst. Anna’s pals are going through their difficulties as well. Her best buddy John (Malcolm Cumming) secretly yearns for Anna, but does not act upon his affection for her. It also stings that John’s jock tormentor Nick (Ben Wiggins, “Mary Queen of Scots”) was romantically connected to Anna and seems to still have a connection with her. Steph (Sarah Swire, “God Help the Girl”) is experiencing her own Christmas sorrows because her parents are away traveling and she is worrying about her girlfriend who seems to have vanished, while Chris (Christopher Leveaux, “Writers Retreat”), a fledgling videographer, is having issues with his student film.
These teens are so consumed about their personal problems that they are blind to the zombie apocalypse surrounding them and their endangered village. Thankfully, they awake from their funk just in time to realize the gravity of the zombie invasion.
The insufferable zombies are not the only known pests to hamper Anna and her cohorts. The school’s insufferable principal Arthur Savage (Paul Kaye, “Dracula Untold”) is another obstacle standing in the way of the gang’s plans to make right some major wrongs. The villainous Savage is keeping Anna’s father, several teachers and Chris’ girlfriend Lisa (Marli Siu, “Dixi” TV series) trapped within the school. Indeed, Anna and her posse have their plates full bashing in pesky zombie heads (giant candy canes are the main choice of killing weaponry) while contending with the evil-minded headmaster Savage.
Inventive and insanely odd, Anna and the Apocalypse is a dandy decapitation piece with an amusing sadistic streak that satirizes its many targets with zippy aplomb. Zombie flicks, Christmas commercialization, high school hell, cheesy musicals, teen torment — nothing seems off limits to skewering in McPhail’s rollicking romp. The showcased slashing-and-dashing, spontaneous sing-a-longs, and cockeyed coming-of-age overtones in this candy cane creeper register with gleefully gory gumption. The deadpan humor and traces of touching moments (father-daughter, fated lovers) between the brain-splattering carnage come together in jocular unison. Best is the songs featured before, during and after the bedlam make for an impressively catchy soundtrack.
As the zombie-terminating diva of destruction Anna, Ella Hunt is a pure find and headlines this lyrical zombiefest with energetic gusto. Not since “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” have we seen a youthful conflicted chick kick so much butt with ridiculing rage. In fact, the entire cast — especially Paul Kaye exaggerating steadfastness to a whole new level — has a grand time frolicking in this finger-snapping, Christmas-inspired creeper. Everyone seems to be in on the whole joke and the twitchy session of zombie hordes and the crusading kids as their foils make for an entertaining showdown of welcomed ridiculousness.