Anna and the Apocalypse [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Second Sight
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (23rd December 2019).
The Film

"Anna and the Apocalypse" (2017)

It's Christmastime and a high school in Little Haven, Scotland is putting on a Christmas show for the community before the school break. Anna (played by Ella Hunt) is not particularly looking forward to the festivities and is focused on after the school year when she is planning to travel to Australia for the summer. Her father Tony (played by Mark Benton) who works at the school disapproves of her decision as he is expecting her to go straight to university. But unfortunately during the festive time, an outbreak occurs and the town becomes infested with zombies, so Anna along with her friends must somehow run, fight, and survive the impending apocalypse, while singing in dancing in a musical fashion.

Within the last twenty years the number of zombie movies released have increased exponentially. While rules of the zombie genre have been well established, a few have taken the opportunity to expand the genre to go beyond the borders of horror. "Shaun of the Dead", "Paranorman", "The Walking Dead", and others have crossed over by adding something to the genre, whether it is comedic, metaphysical, or adding heart, but they still kept to the rules with how zombies act and being creative with on screen kills. One particular genre crossover that has not quite caught on is the zombie musical. Though there have been a few in the past with the little seen indie film "Z: A Zombie Musical" (2007) or the Indian film "Donga" (1985) which had the infamous "Thriller" ripoff scene, there hasn't been one that pushed to a higher limit in execution and quality in both the musical aspect and the gore with a wide appeal. "Anna and the Apocalypse" is a small Scottish film that feels much bigger and richer than it should, with its great performances by the actors as well as a very well put together score, featuring great singing and choreography to match.

In 2011, Ryan McHenry who was known for his Vine memes "Ryan Gosling Won't Eat His Cereal" directed the short film "Zombie Musical" which went on to win a BAFTA. He discussed with producer Naysun Alae-Carew about adapting it into a feature lengthy production, but unfortunately, McHenry would not live to see the completion, due to his death from bone cancer at the age of 27 in 2015. Production commenced in 2017 with John McPhail directing and most importantly, Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly who composed the music for the production. A very modern pop music oriented score with careful lyrics to compliment the storyline, the songs such as "Hollywood Ending" and "Break Away" are powerful, catchy, and extremely fun, while songs like "Christmas Means Nothing Without You" will give quite a few laughs due to its innuendo. With any musical, if the score doesn't work, the story structure fails. If the musical segments do not easily flow with the dramatic segments, the story also fails. Thankfully "Anna and the Apocalypse" is able to cleanly bridge the gaps together and have it thoroughly enjoyable. The songs can be listened to separately and they still work just as well.

As for the performers Ella Hunt played Anna very well as the smart realist who also dreams of something much more. Her relationship with her single father Tony is close but slightly strained due to time, but it's clear that they have an important family connection throughout. Her relationship with John (played by Malcolm Cumming) on the other hand is a friend-zone one, where she is oblivious to the fact that John is in love with her. Lisa (played by Marli Siu) is Anna's perky and upbeat best friend who is inseparable from her love Chris (played by Christopher Leveaux). Steph (played by Sarah Swire) is a bit of an outsider, who has a bit of an awkward dark personality and is unfortunately alone during the Christmas season with her parents vacationing in Mexico and her girlfriend also being away. The two characters that audiences will love to hate are the classmate bully leader Nick (played by Ben Wiggins) and the viciously strict schoolmaster Mr. Savage (played by Paul Kaye) who are constant antagonists throughout. Each character has their own personality and uniqueness about them, and yes it is unfortunate to see when each gets one offed by the zombie outbreak. Taking place in a high school environment it is easy to place the film in the category of "High School Musical" or "Glee", but with gallons more blood than either of those shows combined, and appealing to both its core audiences of teen drama fans and the zombie horror fans.

The musical is by no means a perfectly made film, as there are questionable actions by some of the characters, the timing of the musical segments not being as balanced as it could be, and how some of the character relationships not being fully defined. But overall, "Anna and the Apocalypse" is an absolute blast of fun, with a great amount of singing, dancing, laughing, and gore to please many. The film opened on September 22, 2017 in Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas to very positive reviews. It took a while for the film to play in its home country, when it played on June 29, 2018 at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, then at other various festivals around the world. It opened theatrically in the UK, US, and Australia in November 2018 to fairly positive reviews, but didn't quite find an audience in cinemas, grossing a very small $756,473 worldwide being in limited release everywhere. While in the UK the film was released on DVD in the UK by Vertigo Releasing and in Australia by 20th Century Fox, a Blu-ray edition was first released by Splendid Film from Germany (and reviewed here previously) in mid 2019. These releases included the UK theatrical cut running 98 minutes. Second Sight in the UK has made the wise choice of issuing the film on Blu-ray in its home country, with a lavish two disc Blu-ray set, including two cuts of the film and exclusive extras.

Originally the film ran at 108 minutes, dubbed the "Festival Cut", then a few tweaks were made for a general release in the UK. The first noticeable change is that the opening animated credits from the festival cut were moved entirely to the end of the film in the theatrical cut to have the film start quicker. A musical segment entitled "Which Side Are You On?" featuring Mark Benton and Paul Kaye from the festival cut was removed entirely in the theatrical cut, as they wanted the focus more on the kids rather than an entire segment featuring the adults. Some other minor scene alterations were made but overall there was nothing particularly altering the plot or character development. In addition, there is a US theatrical cut which shortened it even further to 93 minutes, but for the UK Blu-ray set, it includes the 98 minute UK theatrical cut and the 108 minute festival cut, dubbed the "Extended Cut" on this release.

Comparisons to "Shaun of the Dead" and "High School Musical" are inevitable, but "Anna and the Apocalypse" truly stands on its own as a fun and bloody romp with great performances and music cues that deserves a wider audience, and should become a Christmas staple for some households.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray set

Video

Second Sight presents both cuts of the film in the 2.37:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. Shot digitally on the Arri Alexa SXT, the image looks as crisp as can be with little if any problems. The image is very clean with great color reproduction on the Christmas colors all around as well as the white snow and bright red blood, and skin tones are natural looking. Overall a great looking transfer all around. Compared to the German Blu-ray from a few months prior, the image looks fairly identical coming from the same source. The colors and framing of the theatrical cut and extended cut look identical as well, with no tweaks made besides some cutting and rearranging of scenes. Excellent transfers by Second Sight on this set.

The runtime for the UK theatrical cut is 97:40 and the extended cut is 108:25.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo

There are two lossless tracks available, one in 5.1 and one in 2.0 stereo, for both versions of the film. Being a musical it is obvious the musical segments fully utilize the 5.1 soundscape as it should. Dialogue is always centered and sounds very well balanced with the music and effects track, and when the singing comes in, the surround system will get a very good workout. The stereo track is a folddown that balances fine but clearly lacks the discreet channels that give the film much more life (and death) throughout. There are no issues of audio errors to speak of in the tracks.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for both versions of the film. They are in a clean white font captioning both the spoken dialogue as well as the song lyrics. There are no spelling or timing errors to speak of for the tracks.

Extras

This is a two disc set, with the theatrical cut on the first disc and extended cut on the second, with the following extras:

DISC ONE

Audio Commentary with director John McPhail, writer Alan McDonald, and composers Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly

In this commentary track, the director, producer and composers chat together and look back at the making of the film. They discuss how McPhail was not a fan of musicals until he decided to have looks at "West Side Story", "Grease" and some others to prepare for the feature, some scene specific cameos and references, the creation of some of the musical pieces, and changes made from the original festival cut to the eventual theatrical cut, and much more. Thankfully there is not a lot of repeated information and serves as a great companion piece to the other extras.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Behind the Scenes" featurette (24:45)
In this making-of featurette, the filmmakers talk about the genesis of the film by adapting "Zombie Musical" by Ryan McHenry and his loss to cancer, input from the various cast and crew about the characters, the music, along with set tours and footage from the shoot.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1 / 2.35:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Original Opening Concept (1:58)
Originally there was a town square musical segment with a drunken Santa and a large cast of singers and extras, but had to be completely cut since the shoot didn't go as planned due to bad weather. The scene was shot but the heavy wind and sleet made it impossible to complete. This features the scenes shot along with behind the scenes footage cut together. There is running audio commentary by McPhail which cannot be turned off, so unfortunately the song itself can only be heard underneath rather than in full.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 2.35:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Deleted Scene (2:30)
A short scene between Anna and Steph at the bowling alley is presented here. It is stated in the documentary and commentary that this was the original bonding scene between the two, but as an additional scene was later added in production with the two of them outside the school, this was scene was removed.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 2.35:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Some Things Will Never Change" deleted song with original storyboards (3:04)
A scene storyboarded and shot featuring Tony singing is presented along with the original storyboards on the left and the shot scene on the right.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Hollywood Ending" cast and crew version music video (4:07)
A montage of the cast and crew lip sync to the catchiest song on the soundtrack in between takes. The optional subtitles do not caption the lyrics but only the ending segment with composers.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Edinburgh Film Festival Footage (5:53)
Footage of the cast and crew at the festival, from performing songs outside with zombies, selfie shots, and hanging out. There are also comments from audience members and their reactions to the film.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Outtakes / Gag Reel (2:48)
Various flubs and mistakes by the cast that are color corrected and framed in the theatrical ratio.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 2.35:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Extended Outtakes Reel (11:07)
More mistakes, extended adlibs, and more are here as an extension of the gag reel, with some scenes being repeated here. These have not been color corrected and are presented open matte as it was filmed, so colors can look a bit dull and microphones can sometimes be seen from overhead in shots. This is an easter egg rather than a listed extra as it was on the German Blu-ray. To access It, highlight “Outtakes / Gag Reel”, press right four times.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles


DISC TWO

"The Making of Anna and the Apocalypse" documentary (84:49)

This exclusive retrospective documentary has a large number of the cast and crew reminiscing over the making of the film, in separate interviews edited together. Actors Ella Hunt, Ben Wiggins, director John McPhail, composers Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly and many others share their thoughts on the project, from the genesis of the project with Ryan McHenry's idea after watching "High School Musical" and wishing Zac Effron would turn into a zombie, his short "Zombie Musical", the lengthy process of bringing the feature to fruition, the making of the music, auditions, the practical effects, the shoot, and more. It does feel more like an extended selection of interviews well edited together, rather than a documentary but it is a great addition to this set and very worth well watching.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Original Short Film "Zombie Musical" (18:37)
The original short from 2011, "Zombie Musical" was directed by Ryan McHenry and starring Joanne McGuiness as Anna (who makes a cameo in "Anna and the Apocalypse" as a zombie). The short that was the inspiration of "Anna and the Apocalypse is a bit different in the structure, with Anna and John not knowing each other at first and not the principal but a P.E. teacher that proves to be the bad guy. To say, the scene of Anna singing and dancing in the street while the people are being attacked is similar to that of the later film, and the film went on to win the BAFTA Scotland New Talent Award.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 without subtitles



The Second Sight Blu-ray set is a stacked release, it includes all the extras available on the German release and adds its own exclusives. There is a Canadian release that has the shorter US cut with a very short 2 minute making of featurette. It's clear as can be that the UK release is the definitive edition of the film.

Packaging

The first pressing is in a standard keep case, housed in a slipcase with identical artwork. Inside there is a 28 page booklet which has the film's song lyrics printed, including the exclusive song in the festival cut and the deleted song.

The back of the case mistakenly states "Region B" only, but the discs themselves have a Region ABC logo printed correctly.

Overall

"Anna and the Apocalypse" is a wonderful little zombie musical hybrid film that has an excellent score and a great amount of gore to satisfy the musical audience and the horror crowds to equal effect. It's hilarious as it is bloody and upbeat, with a great cast as well. The Second Sight Blu-ray has an excellent selection of extras and a great presentation of two cuts of the film. A future Christmas cult classic and easily one of the best releases of the year.

The Film: B+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A

 


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