ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE (theatrical, 2018)

Why was it such a misfit?

As I write this, Christmas movies are HUGE BUSINESS! The genre has blown up in recent years to the point that Hallmark -- the company and channel that initiated the trend -- is premiering one new Christmas movie every DAY throughout the month of December. Other networks have taken notice and started mass-producing their own cozy, treacly movies. One thing is clear...the War On Christmas is over, and Christmas WON. Poor defeated Hannukah had to pack its bags and leave.

The thing about Christmas TV movies in the Hallmark vein is that even though there are 10,000,000 of them now, there isn't much variety. They usually involve a woman from the big city who goes back to her rural hometown and falls in love with a prince from outer space who turns out to be Santa's brother. And they all star the same actress from a 30-year-old family sitcom, until she gets arrested for bribing an Ivy League college to take in her spoiled daughter, in which event they just find another one. Like a mass-produced Pringle, if you've eaten one modern Christmas movie, you've pretty much tasted them all.

But there is one exception. Today we're going to be talking about a Christmas movie of a different sort...truly one of a kind, and a Misfit in every sense of the word. It's the kind of thing that would make Lacey Chabert and Candace Cameron Bure wet themselves and run off screaming, voluntarily locking themselves into Lori Loughlin's prison cell to keep themselves safe from it. My friends, let me introduce you to a Christmas horror comedy zombie thriller musical. From Scotland.

We open with a shot of Anna and her friend John being driven to school by Anna's father. Someone on the radio is uttering something urgent about a mysterious pandemic, but Anna doesn't care and reaches over to switch the knob to festive music. Anna's dad asks her if she plans to attend the Christmas play at her school that evening, but Anna tells him she'll be working the cash register at the bowling alley instead. "Yeah, to pay for that ticket," John blurts out.

"What....ticket?" Dad growls. Fortunately, Anna doesn't mean a parking ticket. She means a one-way ticket to Australia! Uh-oh, that's worse. "I'm not going to Uni (Scottish for "college")," she announces, which causes him to slam the brakes in sudden rage.

"Thank of all the bootiful places yau could get mooged or kylled!" he says sarcastically. "Stop trying to run my life!" protests Anna. "IF YER MUM COULD SEE YOU NOW--" he starts, which makes Anna flinch in surprise, so he cuts that sentence short, implying someone happened with Anna's mother before this story began.

John doesn't look thrilled with Anna's life choice either, but that's because he secretly carries a torch for her, and 365 days away from their hometown means 365 chances for Anna to become smitten with someone else. Given that Anna has to be taken to school, there isn't much time to discuss this drastic decision, so Pop says they'll pick up the conversation the next time they meet. Little does he know that's going to be a while.

At school, we meet the rest of the characters one by one: Steph, the constantly angry short-haired lesbian stereotype, Nick, the punky immature egomaniac, Chris and Lisa, the perky sweethearts who can't stop making out in public, AND our picture's villain: Mr. Savage, assistant to the Headmaster (that's Scottish for "Principal") and gunning for his job once he retires January 1.

It's also time for Anna to launch into her first song, "Breakaway." It's an I Want song where the cast expresses how unsatisfied they are in their current positions and how they wish things could be better. And no, it's not the Kelly Clarkson song. It's much better than that.

Walking into the rehearsal for the play, Anna sits down in the back. Lisa sees her and rushes over, demanding to know what she thinks of her dress, her decorations and everything. Anna says:

"I KNOW!" Lisa gleefully replies. Mr. Savage steps in and demands everyone get back to work. Anna points out that she's not in the play. Savage tells her at least four cast members have called in sick for....some reason, so they could use the help. Anna isn't interested.

Time has now progressed to noon, the lunch hour. Steph is miffed that her girlfriend is ghosting her, her parents are in Mexico, and the school paper won't approve of her political expose. Chris and Anna are feverishly mashing into each other's faces from across the table. Anna just looks disgusted as she pounds her spoon into her cafeteria gruel. This leads into the second song, "No Such Thing As A Hollywood Ending," which is another tune where everyone tells you how dissatisfied they are.

"'Cause no one ever tells you when you're young
Love's not like the books, the films or the songs
We've been living a lie for far too long
We're tired of pretending
There's no such thing as a Hollywood ending!"

It sounds depressing, but the whole number is as peppy as possible. From the pop melody to the crazy choreographed dancing, everything clashes with the lyrics, which is going to become a pattern for most of these interludes.

Midway through, Anna turns to the camera and addresses the audience: "This is not the story you've been dreaming of, the one where you get all you want. So stop your pretending, there's no such thing as a Hollywood ending."

It's now the evening. Anna is working the late shift at the bowling alley, but there aren't many customers for....some reason (don't worry, the foreshadowing is almost over). Well, there's John, but he's not technically a customer, he also works there. It's not his hours, but he's come to show off his ugly light-up Christmas Tree sweater. "Christmas is fast becoming my least favorite C word," Anna deadpans.

Meanwhile the play is going off without a hitch, though Mr. Savage is still displeased with its content. After a few embarrassing minutes with two boys rapping in penguin costumes, Lisa slinks out and starts singing a parody of "Santa Baby," only ten times as suggestive. "I'M GOING TO KILL HER," Savage roars, and stomps off.

But he gets sidetracked from killing Lisa when he notices a loud pounding at the outer doors, and a lot of groaning coming from outside. "Whoever's doing that, STOP IT IMMEDIATELY," he commands. They don't stop, so Savage opens the door....

Returning to the bowling alley, Anna and John are closing shop. Goofing around, Anna manages to send a bowling shoe sailing with her broom directly into the trash bin. John thinks he can do that, and...hits the business manager in the head, knocking her out. John remarks that he's probably fired, but he's finally done something to win Anna's favor, so...who cares? Anna looks happy for the first time in the entire picture, and they run outside to make snow angels and giggle. This could be the chance John has been waiting for, unless something else interrupts.

The next morning, the city is on fire. Anna wakes up and feels great. She skips outside, right past the dead bodies, junked cars, screaming people and shambling zombies, and starts singing her third song "Turning My Life Around," remaining oblivious to everything for the entire number. John runs out of his own house and starts doing the same. A split-screen camera shows them frolicking about in a state of bliss as they head in the same direction. Their paths cross at a park playground, where they happily pirouette around one another until a guy in a snowman costume makes the unusual social faux pas of ROARING at them.

"Mate. Mate! MATE!" John pleads while holding his hand up, trying to show that he means no harm. But Mr. Snowman really looks like he's going to attack them, so Anna punts his chin with the other end of the seesaw. This causes Mr. Snowman's head to fly completely off, landing in the gravel while still growling unattached.

First comes the shock of finding out zombies are real....then comes the realization that neither of them saw their parents in the house that morning. They must be barricaded in at the school, because of the play! Unfortunately Anna and John will never make it across town on foot with the undead roaming around (at least, that's how they feel....they were doing just fine up to this point). The bowling alley, however, is a closer enclosed space, and John still has the keys.

At the school, Savage is confident that no harm will come to those trapped within its walls. He points out that they have plenty of stocked food in the cafeteria, and that there's an Army base LITERALLY ACROSS THE STREET. Of course they'll be fine, right? Some teachers are skeptical. Savage won't tolerate insubordination....

Anna and John step into the bowling alley to find Steph and Chris holed up in there. "How did you two get in here? Did you break in?"
"The....back door was unlocked," Steph tells them. Everyone looks at John.
"That's the cleaner's job!" he tells them.

Electricity is still live and the wifi is still working, so they check the Web. What's happening here seems to be happening all over the world, and countless people are succumbing to the horde. Chris holds up his phone and announces dramatically, "S***, Justin Bieber's a zombie."

Digging further, Steph finds a long Twitter feed of people posting smiling pics of their emergency evacuations, using the hashtag #EvacSelfie. "Whelp.....we all deserve to go extinct," Anna observes.

Taking a minute in the ladies room, Anna and Steph hear a noise coming from one of the stalls. The janitor is still here, AND she was bit. She immediately lunges at them and the dance begins. Steph repeatedly smashes her head in with a toilet seat, and that leaves them safe for about three seconds before the horde comes smashing through the wall! John fends off a zombie by crushing his noggin between two bowling balls (that's quite the display of arm strength). Chris flips another one into the ball pit, while Anna blocks the advances of a zombie with a table. Steph is being attacked behind the counter, but she uses a spatula as a weapon, beating in the monster's brains.

The budget shows through in a lot of the gore shots; I've seen far better special effects and makeup on an average Walking Dead episode. The movie is rated R, but the zombie violence looks so fake it doesn't even come close to traumatizing. More likely it got the letter for using the F-word more than once.

Well, they survived that, so it's time to sing again! This time, the subject is how they regret spending so much time in front of screens and wished they had made more personal human contacts when they had the chance. "I Need A Human Voice" is the title.

Anna and her chums wake up in the ball pit the next morning, and they're getting seriously concerned. If the Army was going to rescue them and take them to their parents, it would have happened by now. John takes a peek outside. Well, the Army HAS arrived, it turns out...but they're currently shambling about, groaning and drooling. Looks like it's up to them. They have to risk going outside and somehow make it to the school....but how will they get through the horde?

"I just got the most brilliant idea ever...." says John.

"This is the stupidest idea ever...." says Steph.

It DOES fool the zombies into not chasing them, but a more unexpected complication occurs when a zombie granny decides to sit on the inflatable pool and take a leak all over Steph. This will not abide, and they're now making enough commotion to attract attention. But just when you think they might be chow, help comes from an unexpected (and unwanted) place.

Yes, it's the arrogant Nick from school, here with his buddies as the Ultimate Zombie Killing Posse. He also came with his own song! "When it comes to killing zombies, I'm the top of my class! While you've been hiding, I've been kicking some ass! I know the best form of defense is attack! I know what I'm fighting for....I'm a SOLDIER OF WAAAAAR!" Nick belts out while standing on top of a car. Chris films the whole thing with his phone ("When they use this on the news, it'll make my gran so happy," he says).

After they're done singing, Anna and her crew simply walk off without saying a word. "Hey, come on!" Nick says, lagging behind.

Some time later, John is pushing Anna in a shopping cart....why, the movie never explains. Maybe the idea is to conserve energy one person at a time. As he's pushing Anna, John remarks that the one good thing about this entire situation is that she won't be going to Australia.

Anna looks up at him and says "John, you're my best friend." "Yeah, I know," John starts to say, and then she repeats, "John. You're my best. FRIEND."
The wounded expression on John's face indicates he gets the message. He mewlingly says, "Time to swap places," and gets in the cart.

Nick's Zombie Killing Posse has found an open Christmas tree warehouse. They theorize that if they cut through the building, they'll be able to get to the school faster and without zombies hassling them. The one caveat is if there are zombies INSIDE. It's too dark to tell, and with so many trees around they could come up and attack you before you even knew they were there. Maybe they shouldn't do this? Well, at least not without weapons. Anna grabs a giant candy cane lawn ornament, the moment most viewers have been waiting for, as it's the bludgeoning tool she's wielding on all promotional materials for this movie.

They were correct to take precautions. Things seem fine for the first leg of the journey, but when they're haflway through, the horde comes out of nowhere. Everyone screams and scatters. Nick's Zombie Killing Posse doesn't last very long, though Nick himself manages to make it. Chris almost doesn't when he doubles back to pick up his phone. Steph chides him for taking such a risk, but he explains that it contains what may be the only photos and videos of his family.

But aside from the redshirts in the Posse, everyone made it out of the warehouse unscathed....UNTIL. Until a zombie comes out of nowhere and bites Nick in the arm bites John in the arm.

Wait, JOHN???

The movie decides to throw one wicked curveball as the love interest goes down two thirds of the way through, before ever getting a chance to complete his arc. Anna tries to save him, but John pushes her away, knowing his only value at this point is to serve as bait so the other cast members can escape. Anna screams as the others drag her away while zombie after zombie piles down on poor John. What a harsh scene.

Thnaks to John's sacrifice they made it to the school in time to save their parents....or did they? The doors are wide open and the only one in the immediate vicnity is Savage. No, he didn't......oh yes he did. Savage wanted control over the school immediately, but the retiring Headmaster wouldn't allow it, so Savage made a power play by letting the zombies into the school. If he couldn't have it, then no one would either! .....This guy is kind of one-note as villains go. He just does evil things for evil's sake; he's like an even less dimensional version of Ms. Togar from Rock & Roll High School.

Did the zombies get Anna's dad, or any of the others? Savage won't say, because he's a prick, but he WILL let a horde of zombies loose on the kids while singing from behind his grilled cage. "Nothing's gonna stop me now! Nothing's gonna STOP me now! It took me time to blossom, I know, but I'm all fired up and I'm ready to go..." After about three minutes of suffering, the gang manages to beat the zombies back enough to find time to bust the lock and open the grill. Savage flees; the gang splits up to look for their legal guardians.

Chris finds Lisa, who's okay. However, Chris's grandma sadly didn't make it. Anna and Nick wander into a classroom where they're ambushed by several zombies; Nick takes them head-on with his bat and tells Anna to run; she does. Their getaway depends on Steph, who has a minivan -- and she could drive it if Savage hadn't confiscated its keys last week.

The keys are now in his office, past a Teacher's Lounge full of biters. Steph creeps into the lounge and tries to rummage through Savage's storage boxes as quietly as possible while Chris and Lisa provide a distraction. Steph gets the keys, but the young couple is bit in the process, and in their final scene share a hug while bracing for a grim future.

Finally, the moment arrives. Anna enters the auditorium, brandishing her bloody candy cane. Mr. Savage is waiting for him. Her father is alive, Savage is holding him prisoner, and if she wants him, she's got to make it through his zombie army -- singing all the while. Anna and Savage share a duet as she cleaves and he gloats.

"Raise the curtain!
Hit the lights!
Strike up the band for the final night!
And if it is my time to go,
I'll give them one hell of a shooooow!"

Anna successfully fights through, dramatically vaults onto the stage, and rushes to her dad's side, untying his bonds. He insists they dispose of Mr. Savage immediately, but Anna insists they spare his life. Then Savage calls Pop a "roly-poly pig-faced pleb" and breaks a bottle to slash him with, so they dump him over the side and let the zombies pull out his intestines.

"You're coming with me," Anna tells her dad. "No....No I'm not," he says sadly, and points to his leg....where there's a bite wound. You've gotta be kidding me.

Anna has faced a lot today, but this is the point where she finally breaks down. "They've....they've gotta be working on a cure! Somewhere, there's gotta be a..."
"It happens too quickly, Anna. You need to go. For once in your life, don't argue with me."
In tears, Anna slowly departs. Also, it turns out Nick survived his attack, so....yay?

Outside the school, Anna and Nick are surrounded by the horde. There doesn't seem to be any escape, so they sing what they feel will be their final song, "Where is the light that used to shine? Oh where is the life that once was mine? But while there's hope, while I still breathe, I will belieeeeve...."

The masses close in and they brace for the end -- until, suddenly, Steph rushes in with her minivan, yelling "BOOM! SAVED YOUR LIFE!!"

And there they sit, silently in the car, as it speeds down the road: Anna, Nick and Steph. What kind of a lousy payoff is this? Everyone we'd been pushed to root for died, and all the annoying characters lived! How dare Nick be in that car! Why wasn't it John? Why, at LEAST, didn't Anna's dad live? Yeah, it would be cliche for them to be the ones who survive, but some cliches exist for a reason! You can't help but feel cheated out of these 90 minutes.

Then, slowly, a reprise of the film's signature theme floats back into the soundtrack, and you realize you were played. You were actually warned about this well in advance. "This is not! Not the story you've been dreaming of! The one where you get all you want! So stop your pretending....there's no such thing as a.....there's no such thing as A.....HOLLYWOOD ENDING!" Anna looked you in the eyes and told you this. It's your own fault for not heeding her warning.

Steph breaks the music with a question: "So where to now?" They have no idea.

Why didn't it fit in?
Anna And The Apocalypse started out as a short film called "Zombie Musical" that was a riff on High School Musical back when it was fresh. The film's creator, Ryan McHenry, got a deal to have the short turned into a full-fledged feature....and then he died before any work could get started on it. Maybe this explans the pessimistic tone it ends up striking. Unfortunately, in the time it took to get the movie finished, popular culture was drenched in zombies throiughout the 2010s and by 2018, the shock and novelty had completely worn off. Heck, it wasn't that long ago that Disney Channel actually MADE a zombie musical.

It's too early to tell if Anna And The Apocalypse will become a cult classic, but it's going to be difficult for it to find that cult. Because of how sad things unexpectedly get in its final act -- which is NOT what you sign up for when you sit down to a zombie-themed Christmas musical from Scotland -- it's not the kind of movie you can play at parties. Unless you just stopped the DVD when they reached the Christmas tree warehouse. Do that.

Does Zombie Mary Lou Retton like it?

For today's second opinion, we asked the undead Mary Lou, whom we found stumbling around San Diego, what she thought of Anna And The Apocalypse.