GRIMMFEST 2018: Anna and the Apocalypse

Year: 2018
Directed by: John McPhail
Cast: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Marli Siu, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins

Written by Sasha Hornby

“What if High School Musical had zombies?” When Anna and the Apocalypse was first conceived, this was the pitch. 8 years later, this zom-com Christmas musical is taking the film festival world by storm – and met with uproarious laughter and applause as the Grimmfest closing film. Set in the peaceful British town of Little Haven, a global pandemic threatens to derail Christmas. Anna (Ella Hunt), and her friends, John (Malcolm Cumming), Steph (Sarah Swire), Chris (Christopher Leveaux), Lisa (Marli Siu), plus ex-boyfriend Nick (Ben Wiggins), must fight and sing their way to survival.

The film opens (after a wonderfully animated opening credits has run) with Anna, and best friend John, getting a lift to school from her dad, Tony (Mark Benton). Some minimal exposition occurs during this journey; as the trio discuss Anna and John’s plans for post-school – Anna wants to travel the world, John wants to go to art school – the radio plays a news bulletin detailing the flu-like disease doing the deadly rounds.

Even those uninitiated in zombie lore know the story from here. The infected die, and their still-animated corpses single-mindedly seek out living humans for sustenance. Meanwhile, our hapless heroes have to traverse their sleepy town, now teeming with the living dead, to reunite with each other. In this respect, Anna and the Apocalypse has little new to add to the undead canon. The same rules apply – don’t get bit, avoid the hordes, aim for the brain. There is a quaint social-commentary attempted as the zombies are easily distracted by flashing lights, glittering tinsel and vlog-style videos made on a phone. For the most part though, the evolution of living to undead is familiar.

What does stand out is the way the kids navigate the end of the world. We all remember being 17, and thinking we’re all grown up and know everything we need to know. The titular Anna is no exception. She’s tough, and practical. And stubborn. She believes she can still go globetrotting, even in the face of Armageddon. Ella Hunt is the perfect choice for Anna, as she exudes effortless cool in every frame. It’s easy to root for her. She also manages to look bad-ass while wielding a novelty candy cane as a weapon. John is Anna’s polar opposite. He’s a little geeky, unashamedly wears a light-up festive jumper, and definitely doesn’t keep his cool. Malcolm Cumming has impeccable comedy timing, playing bumbling yet adorable fool with aplomb. If he doesn’t go on to become a top talent in British comedy, I will be very surprised.

If you thought the only antagonist in Anna and the Apocalypse was the zombies, you’d be dead wrong. John’s nemesis Nick is the school bad boy, played with delicious delight by Ben Wiggins. Wiggins walks with an unrivalled swagger, clearly relishing his big moment crooning about his zombie-killing skills. The real big bad though is acting head-teacher Savage (Paul Kaye), who so clearly hates children, you have to wonder why he ever became a teacher at all! He is utterly demented, void of any compassion, finding the zombie apocalypse a massive inconvenience to his plans for school domination. Kaye is a scene-stealer, delivering each line with a harsh wit. His descent into nihilism is hammed up to 11, with one particular song standing out for hilariously painting Savage as a cartoon villain.

The soundtrack is chocked full of absolute bangers. It has been 3 days since I saw the film, and I am still humming “Hollywood Endings”. To categorise Anna and the Apocalypse is an impossible task. It has been called “La La Land meets Shaun of the Dead.” I say think Glee, but set in Grange Hill, with more blood. Every song is delightful, many laugh out loud. An entirely inappropriate Christmas serenade, sung like a wicked version of the “Jingle Bells Rock” performance in Mean Girls, had me weeping. Everyone commits so fully to the musical trope of bursting into explanative ditties, or emotion-laden refrains, singing and dancing their hearts out for us on screen, they earn your buy-in.

Anna and the Apocalypse is an absurdly good time, dripping in laconic Scottish humour, with a cast of misfits you can’t help but care about. I recommend everybody make this their festive film treat when it’s released in cinemas on November 30.

Sasha’s Verdict

4-5

Grimmfest 2018: 10 Must-Sees!

Written by Sasha Hornby

GRIMMFEST, Manchester’s Festival of Horror, Cult and Fantastic Film, scheduled to take place from Thursday 4th October to Sunday 7th October at the ODEON Manchester, is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The line-up was announced on Monday 3rd September, and this year promises “the darkest, deadliest line-up yet of wild, weird, witty, thrilling, chilling, blood-spilling movies.” Each film shown is a premiere (of some sort) or cult classic, many with cast and crew in attendance.

To honour 10 years of it being Grimm Up North, we pick our 10 must-sees from the wicked roster:

 

AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS

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Northern Premiere showing Thursday 4th October at 8:45pm
UK / English / 2018 / 91 mins

Director: Johnny Kevorkian 
Cast: Sam Gittins, Neerja Naik, Grant Masters, Abigail Cruttenden, Kris Saddler, Holly Weston, David Bradley

It’s Christmas day, and one family wakes up to discover they’re sealed in their house by a mysterious black substance. On the television reads a single line of text: “Stay Indoors and Await Further Instructions.” The dysfunctional family, described as “the university-educated son and his Asian girlfriend, the horrible racist Grandad, the control freak father, the simpering doormat of a mother, the chav sister and her meathead boyfriend” are tense and confrontational around each other, not at all prepared for the strangeness of their situation. Shot in Yorkshire, and featuring mostly practical effects, this biting satire promises an unforgettable festive flick.

 

PLEDGE

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European Premiere showing Sunday 7th October at 12:25pm
USA / English / 2018 / 75 mins

Director: Daniel Robbins
Cast: Zack Weiner, Phillip Andre Botello, Zachary Byrd, Cameron Cowperthwaite, Aaron Dalla Villa, Jesse Pimentel, Erica Boozer

American films set in or around University Fraternities and Sororities are hardly new. PLEDGE takes the “geeky social misfits vs. privileged jocks and preppies” set-up and presents a no-holds-barred, cranked-up-to-eleven, savage look at arcane hazing rituals.

 

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (VUELVEN)

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Northern Premiere showing Friday 5th October at 9:15pm
Mexico / Spanish with English subtitles / 2017 / 83 mins

Director: Issa López
Cast: Paola Lara, Juan Ramón López, Tenoch Huerta

11-year-old Estrella has one desperate wish: for her missing mother to return home. As she joins a Lost Boys (Peter Pan) style gang of orphaned children in the violent, drug-war-torn, Mexican town where she lives, she learns some ghosts can’t be left behind, and the hardest battle is with bereavement. Brutal reality is given a whimsical twist through a child’s imaginative eye. Guillermo del Toro called Issa López’s haunting, artistic, urban fairy tale one of the finest films of the year – the highest of fantastical endorsements.

 

RE-ANIMATOR

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Cult Classic showing Thursday 4th October at 6:30pm
USA / English / 1985 / 86 mins

Director: Stuart Gordon
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, Robert Sampson, David Gale

With an introduction by Grimmfest 2018’s guest of honour, star Barbara Crampton, this screening of the original unrated version of the cult comedy classic is a ghoulish and gory start to the festival. A re-imagining of H.P. Lovecraft’s weird pulp novella, Stuart Gordon’s blackly comic tale of a medical student and his girlfriend experimenting with reanimating the dead is a masterwork of the macabre.

 

ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE

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Greater Manchester Premiere showing Sunday 7th October at 8:30pm
UK / English / 2017 / 109 mins

Director: John McPhail
Cast: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins, Marli Siu

Described as “Shaun of the Dead meets La La Land”, ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE is a Scottish Christmas high school zombie musical. Bloody, festive, delightfully charming – watch Anna and her friends slash and sing their way to survival in the zombie apocalypse.

 

NIGHTMARE CINEMA

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UK Premiere showing Saturday 6th October at 4:30pm
USA / English / 2018 / 119 mins

Directors: Alejandro Brugués, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Ryuhei Kitamura, David Slade
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Elizabeth Reaser, Richard Chamberlain, Annabeth Gish

In this twisted horror anthology, five strangers are drawn into an abandoned theatre and forced watch their deepest and darkest fears play out before them. Each film introduced by creepy projectionist, Mickey Rourke, all 5 grim moral tales represent the style of their director. From Joe Dante’s ‘plastic surgery gone sideways’ fable to Alejandro Brugués’ sly take on the cabin-in-the-woods trope, there’s something horrifying for everyone.

 

THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW

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Northern Premiere showing Saturday 6th October at 7:00pm
USA / English / 2018 / 77 mins

Director: Andy Mitton
Cast: Alex Draper, Charlie Tacker, Greg Naughton, Arija Bareikis, Carol Stanzione

An estranged father and son visit a rural gothic farmhouse in Vermont that has been purchased to flip. As renovations begin, the malicious spirit of the deceased previous owner makes it clear she doesn’t want them there, but also never wants them to leave. Part subtle ghost story, part emotional family drama, THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW plays on the hardships and fears of raising a child in 2018, and includes the supernatural to stress the situation to a “nightmarish and genuinely heart-breaking” conclusion.

 

PIERCING

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Greater Manchester Premiere showing Saturday 6th October at 12:30pm
USA / English / 2018 / 81 mins

Director: Nicolas Pesce
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Wendell Piece, Laia Costa, Christopher Abbott, Olivia Bond

Adapted from the cult novel by Ryū Murakami, PIERCING spins the source material into a satirical, body-horror, rom-com. Deriving it’s aesthetic and aural influences from Italian giallo films of the 1970s, a man with a sinister plan, to commit the perfect murder, checks in to a hotel to meet a call girl. He meticulously rehearses every detail, but is unprepared for the disturbed blonde who walks through the door.

 

SUMMER OF ‘84

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Northern Premiere showing Friday 5th October at 11:00pm
USA, Canada / English / 2017 / 105 mins

Directors: Fran­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­çois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell
Cast: Graham Vercher, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Grüter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye, Rich Sommer

From the directors or TURBO KID comes this 80s-set teen adventure with slasher-movie instincts. Echoing the structure of IT and STRANGER THINGS, four 15-year-old boys spend their summer investigating the policeman next door, who they suspect is a serial killer – because all serial killers have to be somebody’s neighbour, right? Featuring a synth score to ramp up the pastiche, SUMMER OF ’84 is more than just a re-tread of familiar themes, it’s actually scary.

 

GIRLS WITH BALLS

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European Premiere showing Thursday 4th October at 11:00pm
France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain / French with English subtitles / 2018 / 77 mins

 

Director: Olivier Afonso
Cast: Denis Lavant, Manon Azem, Dany Verissimo-Petit, Anne-Solenne Hatte, Camille Razat, Louise Blachére, Victor Artus Solaro, Tiphaine Daviot, Margot Dufrene

The Falcons, an all-girls volleyball team, find themselves stranded in the middle of cannibal hillbilly territory when their mini-van breaks down. Described as a “slyly feminist reinvention of the “Cheerleaders in Peril” scenario”, GIRLS WITH BALLS is a blood-soaked black comedy about the hunted becoming the hunters.