Anna and the Apocalypse is a Scottish zombie high school musical comedy set at Christmastime. Does it fulfill every magical possibility of that delicious combination of themes? No, but let’s be reasonable. It’s a remarkably self-assured and polished second feature by director John McPhail (expanding on a 2011 short by Ryan McHenry), with tuneful, rhyme-full pop songs by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly, game performances by a likable cast, and an acceptable amount of undead gore. (It’s the sort of zombie movie that has a scene set in a bowling alley just so it can show a severed head come up through the ball return.)
The dead begin rising on the night of the school Christmas program (there’s a wonderfully naughty song parodying the sensuality of “Santa Baby”), which only adds to the existing drama: bright, spunky Anna (Ella Hunt) is contemplating what to do after graduation; her father (Mark Benton), also the school’s janitor, wants her to go to college; her platonic friend John (Malcolm Cumming) is pining for her.
McPhail has a merry old time with the juxtaposition of Christmas and horror; witness the optimistic, what-a-wonderful-world song that Anna sings as she walks down the street, oblivious to the zombie chaos emerging around her. But he conjures real emotion, too, as Anna’s dad and the campy-mean headmaster (Paul Kaye), barricaded in the school, debate the merits of working together versus deciding who’s most expendable. The film’s energy falls off a bit in the latter stages, but this plucky and funny holiday treat shouldn’t be ignored.