It’s been near twenty years since Shaun of the Dead made zombies funny. If the horror sub-sub-genre was a baby then, it’s a full fledged adult now, about to go off to college and start living in the real world. It has bills to pay and adult decisions to make. There have been a few standouts, a few bright moments in the ink black sky that is zombie comedy. Dead Snow, for obvious reasons; Pontypool, for less obvious reasons; Zombieland, for reasons that probably haven’t aged very well.
While zombie horror flourished, giving us 28 Days Later, [REC], and the first season of The Walking Dead, zombie comedy has barely kept itself afloat. Train to Busan reminded everyone that it was still possible to make a good zombie movie back in 2016 (after World War Z made it seem like the sub-genre would never recover). At Anna and the Apocalypse‘s best moments, it has that same electricity. When it succeeds, it feels like we’re on the edge of a full fledged revitalization of the zombie comedy. The problem is, it delights in failing too damn much. A mash up of High School Musical, Shaun of the Dead, and your favorite Hallmark Christmas movie, Anna and the Apocalypse tries to do everything and succeeds at nothing more than mediocrity.
We meet Anna a day before the world fully succumbs to the zombie apocalypse, but the signs are everywhere. Students in the hallway gnaw and paw at each other (in normal ways and blood thirsty ways, to be clear). Undead bodies wander around the school parking lot like lost puppies, but our ragtag group of teens have too much going on in their lives to worry about current events. Anna is laser focused on her post-graduation trip to Australia and her best friend John is consumed by his crush for her. As they sing and (very poorly) dance to songs about teen angst and loneliness, signs of the end times continue to pop up around them, but everyone is too busy preparing for the annual Christmas show to care.
Despite Anna’s dad’s protests, her and John both skip the Christmas show and pick up an extra shift at the local bowling alley instead. They next day they both wake up refreshed and excited, ready to take on the day. It isn’t until they’re attacked by zombies on their usual walk to school that reality sets in. From that moment on, they fight and flee their way through hordes of zombies, stopping only to sing about more teen angst and make some ham-fisted Christmas jokes.
Without exception, the music is what makes Anna and the Apocalypse feel like a drag. Some of the songs sound like they were written for different movies, having little (or no) connection to the plot or tone of the film. Anna‘s jokes are the strongest when they pit teen self-obsession against gore and mayhem, so I can imagine a world where a song about smart phones being bad (ugh) would seem funny and irreverent in a zombie movie. But with its shoddy dancing and forgettable singing, Anna drops every ball it’s given. These incongruities might have seemed fun on paper, but they always hit right as the movie is finally picking up pace, making the film feel double its length.
A little more than halfway through the movie, Anna and all of her friends make it to school, where most of the town is on lockdown, including Anna’s dad. As they lose more of their party to zombie attacks, the film fully becomes the black comedy it was trying to be, delighting in surprising deaths and shockingly dark moments. When Anna breaks away from the formula and commits to the zombie bit, it thrives. It makes you laugh and gasp and engage. The songs still suck, but you care a little less.
If you want to watch a good, funny zombie move you should still watch Shaun of the Dead. If you want to watch a killer Christmas film, Black Christmas is a forever favorite and Better Watch Out carries the torch. Even with its best moments, there’s no reason why you should watch Anna and the Apocalypse.