What do you get if you cross High School Musical with Shaun of the Dead? Well, I can’t say for sure, because I never saw HSM, but I suspect it’d something like this movie: Anna and the Apocalypse. On the IMDB entry for this movie it says cross La La Land rather, but I’d disagree: La La Land is sort of dour and takes itself very seriously (for all its flights of fancy), where this movie is two kinds of schlock rather pleasingly blended.
It’s sort of interesting for this fact: It is a by-the-numbers zombie movie combined with a by-the-numbers high school drama. Anna is a girl who’s going to hike around Australia for a year, which fact she has hidden from her disapproving father from whom she has been alienated since the death of her mother. It’s her uber-beta best male friend—the one who pines for her while she shags the school jock/jerk—who lets this spill, and she worries she’s never going to have the happily-ever-after portrayed in all the pop culture these days (is it, even, though?). Meanwhile her quirky BFF and her boyfriend have the can’t-keep-their-hands-off-each-other going, while all at their school are tormented by the power hungry dean.
Meanwhile, a disease is turning people into zombies, a fact which eludes Anna and her best guy friend, who end up trapped at their job at the bowling alley and then must cross the town to the school, not realizing that the dean has gone crazy and is holding all their friends and families hostage. Along the way, they’ll run in to old friends and new enemies, and people will die, Ten Little Indians style in all the ways we’ve come to know (and love?) from the zombie genre.
But with singing and dancing!
I remember a few years ago…uh…about 35 years ago, when The Old Man and I were having trouble finding good movies to watch and we saw Fright Night. And we came out and said, “Hey, that was okay!” This was followed by, “You know, we really don’t ask for much.” We were pleased because we saw a film that was entertaining, fun and well-executed.
I had a sort of deja vu here because The Boy expressed pretty similar sentiments, with the added caveat that the movie also—for all its clichés—did something different with them, and put a nice flavor on top of some tired tropes. In fact, the use of these tropes made the movie very streamlined. There were about three things that made me roll my eyes, so tired were they as tropes, but mostly they allowed the movie to move from plot-point-to-plot-point (and song-to-song) quickly, such that the 90 minute runtime speeds by.
And it holds together pretty well in the third act, which is something both zombie movies and modern musicals (not to mention all oddball musicals like this, cf. Rocky Horror Picture Show or Phantom of the Paradise) have trouble with. Oh, also, as mentioned in La La Land, one of my issues with modern musicals is that nobody on screen looks like they could actually make the noise they’re making. It’s a kind of auditory uncanny valley that tends to alienate me, and the production here is smooth enough between the regular dialog and the musical numbers that I didn’t have that. (The only exception is with the dean’s big number, where he’s practically whisper-singing, and even that wasn’t too bad and was in character.)
Great cast of actors who, I believe, are primarily from the theater. If I were going to single out anyone it would be Marli Siu, as quirky girlfriend deeply in love with her boyfriend. She sings a song at the holiday show that takes “Santa, Baby” and kicks it up a notch, which works better than it has any right to. (It seems both prurient and sweet at the same time, perhaps because it’s directed at her missing boyfriend. But it works.)
From there, I might go to Ben Wiggins, who plays the alpha and has the most clichéd part of all, I think, but ends up winning us over anyway. Then I get to thinking of Chris, who also is annoying at first, but also kind of wins us over. Pretty soon, though, I’m talking about everyone. They’re all good.
It’s just a fun bit of alchemy, really. I guess what’s going on here is the movie uses the tropes to do what it wants to do (tell its story in its own way) but it’s not relying on them to keep everyone entertained. It brings a lot to the table.
I would probably watch this movie before La La Land again—and the music was largely more memorable and catchy, as well.