Like I said, rules don’t necessarily have to squelch creativity; they can enhance it. Take film noir — you’ve got to have your hard-bitten male character, you’ve got to have your femme fatale, you’ve got to have sidewalks slick and glistening even when it’s not raining. Within those rules you can do anything, and that’s how you end up with a family whose members include both “The Maltese Falcon” and “Blade Runner.”
“Anna and the Apocalypse” tries to follow a lot of rules. It’s basically the Ginsu knife of cinema: It’s a musical! It’s a zombie movie! It’s a Christmas movie! It’s a high school movie!
Anna (Ella Hunt) is in her last year at a British high school. Her school is under the control of an unbelievably evil assistant headmaster (as in, he’s so unbelievable no audience member would consider him an actual threat, making him useless as a villain) bent on taking the top job once the current headmaster retires. Then the zombies arrive, thanks to a vague “virus,” and Anna and her friends have to battle them. Also it’s Christmas, though that seems to be the case only so Anna’s school can be prepping for its holiday show.
The four genres that “Anna and the Apocalypse” tries to embrace could have been brought together in a creative, rule-breaking sense. And while the attempt is admittedly innovative, the execution falls flat. The movie is so intent on doing what’s expected that it forgets to do anything else. There’s the aforementioned random Christmas setting — seriously, this could have been set during spring break or Halloween or some random Tuesday in May. The film does nothing new or particularly interesting with the zombies; they lurch and bite and mrrughhh as expected. The music hits all the expected notes (sorry), with a kicky opening number, a typical “I want” song so Anna can express her hopes and dreams, and an evil song in which the evil villain evilly sings about how evil he is. The film reaches for a “Breakfast Club” kind of vibe, with teens banding together to fight an overzealous high school administrator. Instead of producing a creative mashup of these beloved genres, it all ends up a muddled mess.
There are some laughs and genuinely touching moments, but the makers of “Anna and the Apocalypse” ultimately didn’t view the rules as the opportunities they were, but as boxes to be ticked off. This is a sentence I never thought I’d write, but in the end, “Anna and the Apocalypse” is just another Christmas zombie high school musical.