This piece originally appeared as part of my weekly newsletter, The Full Lid . If you liked it, and want a weekly down of pop culture enthusiasm, occasional ketchup recipes and me enjoying things, then check out the archive and sign up here.Last year I wrote this about the promising looking genre movies that never showed up outside eight cinemas and a handful of screenings in the UK. They’re now filtering out onto blu-ray and VOD so I’m finally getting a chance to see some of the movies I’ve been excited about for a while. The first of which, Anna and the Apocalypse, sets a ridiculously high bar.
Anna (Ella Hunt) is about to leave her hometown for University. John (Malcolm Cumming) is about to apply to Art School. Steph (Sarah Swire) is about to break big as a social justice and issues based school journalist. Chris (Christopher Leveaux) is Steph’s kindhearted cameraman who’s dating Lisa (Marli Siu), an endlessly enthusiastic over-achiever. They’re all resolutely normal kids in a normal town on a normal day. Except Anna’s not going to Uni, John hasn’t even applied to art school yet, Steph’s been functionally abandoned by her parents and dumped by her girlfriend, Chris is struggling with an assignment and Lisa is about to be given more responsibility than she ever thought possible.
Oh and the dead are rising.
Written by the late, much missed Ryan McHenry and Alan McDonald and directed by John McPhail, Anna proudly drops it’s blood-spattered candy cane quarterstaff on the table and takes a seat next to Slither, Shaun of the Deadand Brain Dead as one of the best horror comedies of all time. The humor here is almost constant, always deeply weird and, for me, reassuringly familiar. Small towns in the UK? WEIRD as Hell. Northern small towns? And speaking from personal experience ones on small islands? Weird as Hell squared. The school talent show is especially familiar ground to me although I tended to do magic rather than fish based (w)rap. Had I known though. Had I known.
Every main character is ready, desperate even, for their lives to change. None of them are ready for it to change like this and that throws the film into some rich, rarely explored territory. An entire musical number is based on Anna and John being so happy for once that they don’t notice the world ending around them. It’s funny and dark and melancholy and exuberant and the entire movie is this good and this brave. The B-plot, which sees Anna’s dad, the school caretaker (The always excellent Mark Benton) clash with the increasingly deranged headmaster Mr Savage (Paul Kayeturning in career best work and one hell of a solo number) is especially good and pulls absolutely no punches. Things end badly in this movie. For far more of the cast than you might expect. This is a story about a small town being hammered flat by an event it can’t understand and there really is no Hollywood Ending. Just brave, flawed people doing the best they can and, often, realizing that’s putting themselves in harm’s way so someone else isn’t. To borrow The Breakfast Club‘s Bowie quote, these children too are painfully aware of what they’re going through. And they do it anyway.
All of which would mean nothing if the cast didn’t work but they’re all just ridiculously good.. None of the characters leave the movie as the people they begin as and all of them have moments of extraordinary courage and towering, gloriously familiar, incompetence. Anna and John’s magnificently bad dancing in Turning My Life Around, Chris’ sincere love for his Gran, Lisa’s magnificently filthy (And yet not filthy at all) musical number. Nick (Ben Wiggins), Anna’s ex-boyfriend and his gradual transformation from action hero to terrified but resolute victim. Steph’s flat out sprint towards any Good fight. Everyone’s fear when the phone network finally collapses. These are familiar characters. You’ll have been at least one of them. I know I have and win or lose, live or die they’re all in the spotlight and all deserve their place there. Soaked in blood, laughing so they don’t cry and hurtling towards an unknown future. Just like the rest of us, but with candy cane quarterstaff at the ready.
Easier to dance to than 28 Days Later and braver than Shaun of the Dead, Anna and the Apocalypse is brilliant, available now and you need to see it.