Anna and the Apocalypse is a “so-much-more-than-a-zombie” movie that has touchstones across the pop culture landscape. Described as “Shaun of the Dead meets La La Land,” the movie also has notes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dear Evan Hansen, and Mean Girls—and all set during Christmas. It's the film for those who enjoy a rousing song-and-dance and a good scare equally.
The movie musical evolved from the 2012 short film Zombie Musical (by “Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal” creator Ryan McHenry) and features a pop-rock score from first-time musical composers Tommy Reilly and Roddy Hart. Playbill caught up with the cast during New York Comic Con before their performance at Elsie Fest.
Building a character for a single genre film is difficult enough, but doing the prep work for a zombie-Christmas-teen movie mashup is a world apart. Christopher Leveaux, who plays film geek Chris, said the cast was pointed to (the very non-horror film) The Breakfast Club as a reference: “Although it could send itself up, it remained rooted in character.”
Similarly, star Ella Hunt (who takes on the title role) drew inspiration from the people around her. “I thought less about what other actresses had done with similar roles before, and more about my friends and how they would react to that,” she says. “I find so-often young people are misrepresented on screen. It was very important to me to make something about a young woman who didn’t feel she was one thing or another. Anna was able to be brave and scared in the same sentence.”
Still, for Sarah Swire (who plays Steph and also serves as choreographer) being on set was what ultimately made her character gel: “The first day of shooting, with everyone there and fully in costume, you understood the universe for the first time.”
Despite the fantastic circumstances their characters navigate, the cast emphasized how natural and real they found the voice of the characters to be—something actor Malcolm Cumming credits to writer Alan McDonald’s time as a teacher. “He understood these characters and understood young people. I felt with this script, with reading a lot of these characters, ‘I know this guy,’” he explains.
All of this helps to ground a film that can be summed up as “a group of friends who fight, slash, and sing their way to survival.”
“I think the film is about a loss of innocence… it’s a story about young people who aren’t interested in following the conventional cogwheel. They are all trying to get out in some way,” Hunt says. Ben Wiggins added, “Within all of that doom and gloom there is an element of hope that still remains. There is still time, you can do something.”
Anna and the Apocalypse, directed by John McPhail, arrives in select movie theatres in the U.S. and U.K. November 30. Take a look at the number "Hollywood Ending" below.