Dave, a failed, down on his luck musician with a penchant for doing the wrong thing, volunteers to chaperone a kindergarten field trip to a popular outdoor petting zoo park attraction intent on gaining the affection of his 5-year-old nephew’s perky teacher, Miss Caroline. Also at the attraction is an American children’s’ television personality, Teddy McGiggle, travelling the world with his latest stop in Australia. All seems well and dandy until the U.S. stationed Army base adjacent to the petting zoo loses control of the highly aggressive rejuvenation test subjects and are overrun by the lemming of slow, flesh-eating zombies that stagger bit by bit toward the park’s touristy patrons. With every last living, breathing thing either turned undead or eaten to the spinal cord, Dave, Miss Caroline, and Teddy McGiggle must fight against the outbreak for not only their survival, but for the troop of young and impressionable kindergarteners thinking what’s happening is nothing more than a prolonged game of tag before the gung-ho U.S. military sanction of eradicating airstrike right on their location.
The lumbering zombie canon enjoys a delightfully endearing and rousingly tucked zom-rom comedy, “Little Monsters,” with children being the heartfelt conquerors to slay the funk the genre has been stagnantly lingering inside. Written and directed by up and coming filmmaker Abe Forsythe, the internationally collaborated production from the U.S., United Kingdom, and Australia delivers a brashly funny film under the guise of long-pigged zombie horror shot primarily in Sydney, Australia at Centennial Park. Not to be confused with the Fred Savage children’s film of the same title from 1989 that also starred funny man Howie Mandel, Forsythe’s “Little Monsters’” head lopping, guts coiling, and every four letter word in the profanity bible goes to infinity and beyond the parental guidance rating.
Perfect performances all around from a dynamically intercontinental collaborative cast starting off with Lupita Nyong’o. The “Us” actress, who should have won an Oscar for her performance in the Jordan Peele film, astounds again with a delicately frank and beautifully sage performance as the alluring kindergarten teacher Miss Caroline whose number one priority is to protect her class of 5-year-olds, physically and mentally, at all costs. Counter to Miss Caroline seemingly having her stuff together, the raucously detached Dave immediate sets his whirlwind claws right into Miss Caroline, attempting to attract her with disinformation about his stable state of mind and being; however, Dave to the core is a good guy harnessed by Australian actor Alexander England (“Alien: Covenant”) who adds the rough edges around Dave’s stagnant and serrated lifestyle. Though different on the surface level, Caroline and Dave do have rooted similarities that spark romance after some convincing through zombie tribulations and scenario finesse; Nyong’o and England singe around the edge of attraction that’s goes from a seething disaster to being playfully coy and tender that works confidently on screen. When you through Josh Gad into the mix, you never know what to expect in terms of a wild card character. The “Frozen” star pulls off Olaf on hard drugs as Teddy McGiggle as Gad’s voice is unmistakably the overly friendly snowman who likes warm hugs but with a lot more F bombs and a dee seeded disgust for kids show personality that results him bedding many of his toddler fans’ moms. I wasn’t sure how Gad was going to pull off a zombie epic, but his gas-riot performance is a spiked drink compared to other who dances around the children’s innocence and the fact Teddy McGiggle is a kids show personality elevates his crude conduct to that more pungent. “Little Monsters” round out with Kat Stewart, Marshall Napier (“The Beast”), Diesel La Torraca as Felix.
The word from my inner circle of moviegoers, those who have little interest in horror and more interests in fast cars and vast explosions, say something along the lines that “Little Monsters” was “okay,” “Didn’t really do it for them,” or “I didn’t watch the last 20 minutes.” Disclaimer: These people are really not close friends, but barely colleagues, and since “Little Monsters” is being cut down by popcornist naysayers, their opinions have itty-bitty merit awarded to their poor judgement in taste of good, funny, and superbly acted eye-candy horror cinema with pocket messages of insufferable loneliness, hidden internal commonality, and the caliber in what makes us human that piece together as collectively relatable. If these aspects do not register with you, then you’re not human, but rather a 7-headed martian with tentacles and a pea-size purple brain. “Little Monsters” has some good gritty zombies at work here that juxtapose against the tender nature of children and the only thing between these children being lunch are three damaged adults searching for something meaningful. The apocalypse becomes a fork in the road, an ultimatum, that tests their worth and Aby Forsythe bombards that fateful decision with little notes of comedy, witty banter, and a clear case carnage.
“Little Monsters” takes a field trip to Blu-ray DVD home video, and digital download February 10th from UK distributor, Altitude Film Entertainment. “Little Monsters” is a production of Made Up Stories, Protagonist Pictures (“31” and “Lords of Chaos“), and Snoot Entertainment (“Dude Bro Massacre III” and “You’re Next”). Unfortunately, a DVD-R was provided for review so no audio or video quality critiques will be touched up, but the upcoming region B Blu-ray is listed as a BD-50, 1080p Full HD, and presented in the original 2.39:1 widescreen aspect ratio with an English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. There were no special features listed in the press release and there were none available on the DVD-R. Finding a way to harness everything sacred from the zombie genre and then creating something new, interesting, and captive from start to finish to blend is a victory melange of wall-to-wall wit and feral monsters leaves “Little Monsters” as the horror romantic comedy that has it all.
A plague has decimated the world, turning citizens into crazed, flesh eating zombies. In Germany, only two cities have survived the devastating apocalypse the last two years – Weimar and Jena. In Weimar, the infected are immediately eradicated on site without exceptions. In Jena, compassionate individuals strive for a cure for the diseased. Weimar residents, Vivi and Eva, sneak out of the authoritative camp for their own personal reasons and flee toward Jena’s safe-haven policy in hopes for a better way of life, but a perilous journey through the horde occupied Black Forest stands in between them and salvation. Without weapons, food, and one liter of water between them, chances of coming out unscathed are slim-to-none as long as nothing separates them from assisting their survival.
Based off the illustrated graphic novel of the same name written by Olivia Viewig, “Endzeit,” also known as “Ever After” in the English translation, hits the big screen in the 2018 film adaptation under the orchestration of a female, Sweden-born director Carolina Hellsgård as her sophomore feature with Viewig herself providing the script treatment. With pop culture entrenched and seemingly an extension of herself, Olivia Viewig is by trade a German cartoonist best known for her quirky “Why Cats…” series, a children’s book author, and regularly contributions to the world of Manga to which she was influenced. Viewig then turned to horror with “Endzeit” that served as a graduating studies project that earned her a University degree in 2012. The initially 72-page full-length comic became extended six years later in 2018 by a major German publisher named Carlsen and served as the basis of the script for the film about to be covered below that’s a coming-of-age film that also symbolizes passing of the torch for two young and dissimilar women scrambling between two opposing worlds with a common calamity.
Initially, “Ever After” focuses around the immense struggles of a shut-in named Vivi, a character instilled with paralyzing fear and guilt that has more or less clinically diagnoses her as an extreme agoraphobic whose been hasn’t stepped outside the last two years ever since the plague occurred. “Nothing Bad Can Happen” actress Gro Swantje Kohlhof envelopes herself as the “weakling” her character is ascribed by hardened and callous Weimar survivors, but as Kohlhof evolves Vivi’s fragile resolve into something more concrete, Kohlhof also opens a little more trait range for Vivi when she is finally pushed across the threshold of letting go her fear and guilt. Eva can be said as Vivi’s hard-bitten muse whose looking for a softer slice of life and as Eva becomes engulfed in Vivi’s massively sheltered circle by chance, the former Weimar grunt is able to crack through the hardened exterior and let someone like Vivi into be a calming force in her own anxiety riddled interior. Maja Lehrer compliments as the aggressor in an encouraging pair of diverse female characters driven by their regrettable past to never look back on it and keep moving forward to a better prospect that’ll wash their souls clean. Haired tied back tight, form-fitting mercenary-esque clothing, and a self-preserving attitude to match, Lehrer rounds Eva out well to arch her role hard when Vivi is ready to take the reins as an apocalyptic ranger of the Black Forest. In the forest, Vivi and Eva encounter a mystical being, a half-breed of sorts between living and dead, who doesn’t have a name but goes by The Gardener is played by Denmark actress Trine Dyrholm. Since “Ever After” references quite a bit about nature taking the world from man, I’d like Dyrholm represents Mother Nature as the character invites Vivi to her abundant tomato green house, a serene scenery of low-hanging fruit trees, and the character herself has vines and leaves growing out of the side of a human face and can temporary restore or extend life to a person. Vivi and Eva’s brief encounter prompt’s a change in them both that defines their destiny going forward toward Jena. The cast rounds out with minor roles from Barbara Philipp, Yuho Yamashita, Amy Schuk, Axel Warner, Muriel Wimmer, and Ute Wieckhorst.
If you’re looking for blood, “Ever After” is not that kind of zombie film that glorifies the flesh chomping violence but rather utilizes the violence as a motivator for Vivi and Eva to embark from safety, but that isn’t to say the sheer zombie terror is omitted or even diluted. The mass of running undead continues to be a force of concentrated fear with heart pounding side effects, much carried over from Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Late” and Zack Synder’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” and director Hellsgård seldomly relies on a crazed horde to be the mindless exploit of “Ever After’s” core message. Instead, the story clearly defines the growth and understanding Vivi and Eva as individuals and as part of something more, taught in part by their short time with The Gardener, and a highly reflective poignant past that ripples through their memory banks over and over again. Their ambitions nearly shot from existence at the beginning of the apocalypse to the start of their Black Forest voyage have found harmony in letting the past be the past by the end of the story. Once could call it a coming-of-age to see the two women elevate themselves from a place of inner turmoil and, in my opinion, the two women part of that is greatly important because “Ever After” is almost, about 95%, completely female cast driven. So, not only is the story a coming of age one, but also speaks upon self-reliance and empowerment for women.
The swotted comic of Olivia Viewig gains a visual odyssey amongst the undead catalogue with a Blu-ray release of the Das Kleine Fernsehspiel and Grown Up Films production, “Ever After,” distributed by MVDVisual and Juno Films. Stored on a BD-25 and presented in an anamorphic widescreen of it’s original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, “Ever After’s” 1080p full high definition image is sleek to every sensory receptor in the eye and captures the topographic thickets of Germany landscapes in grand wide angles. There is not a lot of tint work here, if any, and relies much on the luminescent and glowing beauty of natural light. The German language DTS-HD 5.1 master audio sufficiently taps into all five channels without overbearing results from zombie hordes. Instead, the focal points here discern more on the tiny tunes and tones of nature. Also included in the setup is an option for a 2.0 LCPM Stereo Audio track and English subtitles, which appear accurate but are hastily paced. Other than a static menu, the region free, 90 minute runtime release bares no special features other than the trailer. “Ever After” is an ascension from within the very weary genre oeuvre, encouraging the strength to stomach guilt and fear as important, but presently irrelevant if one wishes to change with a world that has redesigned around them.
In 1985, director Hilary Jacobs sets her sights to finish her Australian low budget horror film, “Hot Blooded,” at all cost, but the ambitious cast and crew struggle to compete with riley personalities that slow down production. The film’s masked killer goes mad and gores with an indefinite stake into the film’s heart after mercilessly murdering Jacobs before being violently killed himself by the film’s vain star, American Vanessa Turnbill. Fourteen years have past and the “Hot Blooded” reels have been deemed cursed for whenever they’re viewed, someone dies, but a group of determined film students are keen on finishing Hilary Jacobs’ last directorial and even gain the original leading lady, Vanessa Turnbill, to return and finish her staggering performance. With the partial, unfinished reel screened by all cast and crew and filming begins shooting on the original set premises, the evil masked killer returns to finish each one off diligently before they’re able to finish the film.
With the late Wes Craven pumping new spirit into the a life support stricken slasher subgenre in 1996 with “Scream,” masked killers surged into proper restoration once more right before the turn of the century and Mushroom Pictures, the cinematic banner of one of Australia’s most notable indie music publisher, Mushroom Group, asserts their debut title into the stratosphere grazing genre that who’ve now initiated a creative footing into film production and distribution with a commemorating meta-slasher entitled “Cut.” Directed by Kimble Rendall (“Bait”) and penned by Dave warner, “Cut” dares to ride the newly rediscovered genre wave early in the wake of establishing predecessors that strived to formulate an un-formulaic counter measure against the slasher status quo, but “Cut” doubles down with Warner’s script that meshes subgenres, compounding the horror to uncharted territories where filmmakers do not dared trek sitting comfortably in their less is more recliner. “Cut” relates more to Wes Craven than most genre fans would like to admit but the similarities the two directors’ characters and killer are compelling to explore and compare. The filming is mostly shot in the Adelaide region of South Australia; the same region that produced recent horror such as 2017’s zombie post-apocalyptic “Cargo” starring Martin Freeman and the great white shark thriller “The Reef.”
Comprised mainly of an Australian cast, “Cut’s” headlining leading lady is an American “Sixteen Candles” sweetheart taking a leap into unfamiliar territory and I’m not talking about of the Outback kind. Molly Ringwald has only ever starred in one other horror film in her 40 year professional acting career and after the dismally reviewed 1997 cubicle-cutthroat thriller, “Office Killer,” the “Breakfast Club” star steps into a more complex role that involves her multi-tasking two persona performances of essentially the same character spanning a story lined fourteen years apart. As a true testament to “Cut’s” makeup and stylist department, Ringwald, who was about 30 years old at the time of filming, goes incognito as she’s barely recognizable as Chloe, a role within a role played by Vanessa Turnbill playing the teenage character in the scrapped “Hot Blooded” slasher. Though a far cry from a coming to age film, Ringwald pivots to a coming to terms with her character’s handling of prolonged fear from the fateful and deadly night the masked killer almost ended Vanessa’s life by strongly playing to the character’s overpowering sense of self worth and brash Hollywood attitude against the one thing she can’t control…her past. Vanessa is not alone in her quest for finishing a scarring afterthought as “Hot Blooded’s” newest director, student filmmaker Raffy Carruthers, picks up where Hilary Jacobs’ left off after being butchered and is determined to wrap Jacobs’ legacy short of being a hack director. As the other half of the two resilient female characters, Raffy is played by New Zealand actress Jessica Napier who channels her inner Sidney Prescott as a strong feminine survivor unnerved by the macabre that’s closing in around her brought upon a sadistic masked killer and braves sacrificing herself to thwart pure evil’s carnage. The rest of “Cut’s” cast disperses the right amount of character building performances by Sarah Knats, Stephen Curry (“Rogue”), Matthew Russell, Erika Walters, Cathy Adamek (“The Babadook”), Steve Greig, Sam Lewis, and pop singer Kylie Minogue (“Street Fighter”) whose had collaborative projects with Mushroom Group and also a role in a Kimble Rendall 11-minutel short, “Hayride to Hell.”
The meta approach “Cut” takes might detach itself from the plot of “Scream,” but in essence, the Kimble Rendall film is derivative work of Wes Craven who aimed to expose and exploit cliched tropes of the slasher flicks to upheave audiences wits on what they know about the genre and where the plot might eventually boil down to in a orthodox simmer of uncreative sensationalism. “Scream” smartly broke down plot structures, revealed character flaws, and even name dropped popular directors and films that became the very foundational basis of the Renaissance slasher era that went unchanged for years, decades perhaps. “Cut” also reasserts shout outs as references, along with Rendall’s creative knack of making every character swim in the pool of suspicion, to build up a catalytic twist no one would or could predict despite all the subtle clues, generally abundant in slashers, toward revealing the killer’s true identity and motivation. I wouldn’t be bold enough to say Rendall’s “Cut” deserves to be above or on the same level as “Scream,” because, frankly, it doesn’t, but “Cut” has a singular, unique identity with all of its own loaded modern day slasher traits such as a high kill count and an intriguing self-referential plot. Where “Cut” shakes at the knees a bit is how the practical effects were accomplished and the scores of cheesy late 90’s-to-early 2000 visual effects bared an ugly resembles of something that could have come straight out of the Super Mario Bros. film adaptation. A minority of the kills were decently crafted to bring a honorable character death, but there were many that succumb to a quick edit or stemmed from an off screen cut down that took away the breadth of impact and left more to be morbidly desired. Where “Cut” struggles shouldn’t be deemed ineligible for attention because of those reasons and, in fact, “Cut” sustains a high entertaining rating with immense value in the replay sector to catch thematical intimations and do a comparative analysis on Crave and Rendall’s films on how they experiment, treat, and respect the greats that were once lost to success over a long period mediocre financial and routine blundering.
Umbrella Entertainment and Beyond distribution debuts the Blu-ray release of the Mushroom Pictures and Kimble Rendall’s “Cut” with a full HD, 1080p 4K restoration from the original film’s 35mm interpos and presented in a widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The 4K scan illuminates the hard, dark lighting used primarily for tone setting, granting an extremely gothic look without being inside the parameters of inherently gothic set design and the scanned transfer also revitalizes the snaps of color where appropriate while still leaving the natural grain from the 35mm filmstock. The English language dual channel DTS-HD Master Audio track has lossy quality because there is such contentious and explosive moments that warrant audio quality; however, the 2.0 track is sufficient to lay simple groundwork of depth, range, and clarity and the soundtrack, no matter how generic, elevates to a concentrated level with the killer on the hunt. Dialogue murkiness is no issue here with a clear path of discernible lines. Special features seem limited and antiquated for a 4K, Blu-ray debut release, but do include archived cast interviews with Molly Ringwald, Kyle Minogue, Jessica Napier, and Kimble Rendall, behind-the-scenes of some of the shots, a commentary with director Kimble Rendall and writer Dave Warner, storyboard and concept art gallery, “Hayride to Hell” short from Rendall that stars Minogue and Richard Roxburgh, and the theatrical trailer of the film. The back cover states a region B disc, but my player was set on A and prior press releases suggested a region free release so this particular gem should play in any region. If a die hard Wes Craven fan, place the 20-years-young “Cut” into your queue as a forward thinking slasher with brass balls and a marred killer with modified gardener sheers that provokes the genre still to this day.
Shane desperately desires to be a part in the making of a low-budget horror movie. Failure after failure of submitting to production studios who opt out rather than option his scripts and the discouraging financial hits with each festival entry, Shane and his girlfriend Chloe decide to venture into producing, writing, and shooting a film themselves. With the script still a work in progress, the promising title alone scores a film crew from his friends and roommates, generate a small fortune of crowdfunded cash, a leading scream queen from the skanky residue poles of a strip club, and a set location provided by a local video store clerk and schlocky indie horror filmmaker named Machete Mike. As the young film crew bumbles through raising more money and the headaches of production woes without a completed script, a demented clan of hardcore snuff and cannibalistic filmmakers seek a hostile takeover of their ambitious endeavor that’ll produce authentic screams and real blood, the very basic foundations of a good horror movie.
You have to admit it. “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” is an appetizing, exploitation glazed carrot of a title, a salivating lure that’s hard to ignore for any enthusiast for licentious material. Brazilian born director, Paulo Biscaia Filho, helms the Big House PIctures and Vigor Mortis Apresentam production of an ostensibly horror-comedy that leisurely alters into a slasher-survival-esque structure courted with all the admirations of torture porn with a pinch of homage toward the iconic Sawyer family without a Texas size chainsaw wielding maniac wearing a flesh mask. Blueprinted as a meta-horror with twists and turns galore, “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains,” by name alone, doesn’t take itself seriously as an inebriated version of the genre it represents and layers to weave a non-linear, outlier story into the heart of the plot, sewn together by the co-producer Gannaway and went in and out of production in 20 or so days to finally hit festival markets a year later in 2018.
While Shane might feel like the focus of the story, Amber and Chloe undercut his presence and steal his thunder as the naïvely ambitious filmmaker with their final girl fight and vengeance. Amber’s the stripper whose yearning for her spot in the limelight no matter how small and she’s portrayed by prominent Manga voice actress Elizabeth Maxwell (“Dragon Ball Super”) and Maxwell is paired with “Last Girl Standing’s” Kelsey Pribilski in Chloe, initially as a mortal enemy toward Amber when the issue arises of the most common, basic, and core division between women – men. Yet, Amber and Chloe dominate the principal antagonists whose subtle quarrels frame an mulishness and aversion relationship build a stronger support for one another when they come toe-to-toe with utter sadism that threatens what collectively matters most to them. Maxwell and Pribilski demonstrate the conventional markings of the popular final girl trope, acting as a single unit, while Ezekiel Swinford bares the helpless victim and ignorant filmmaker, Shane, to be in the crosshairs of death and for the two corners of his semi-triangular love affair to be his saviors. Swinford acts the giddy fool well enough to warrant his character’s witless person in distress calling. Machete Mike lastly, but not at the least, rounds out the core four personas from Don Daro. The “Sex Terrorists on Wheels” actor has little-to-no kindness in his face, marking him intriguing and guileful as the video store clerk whose more than what meets the eye. Ariana Guerra (“Hollow Scream”), Lindsey Lemke, Gary Kent (“Bonehill Road”), Ammie Masterson, Larry Jack Dotson (“Humans vs Zombies”), Kaci Beeler, Michael Moford, Woody Wilson Hall, Ken Edwards, and professional bassist musician in the band Drag, Dominique Davalos “Howard the Duck”), co-star.
“Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” resembles a movie inside a movie that tries to pull a fast one over the audiences with an open for interpretation of the true nature of events and leaving those once thrilled at firsts sight of the title moviegoers kind of stun like a mouse batted over the head right before being fed to the famished pit viper. Filho and Gannaway’s film does swallow you whole, down it’s gullet, and dropping you right into the stomach acids that begins to dissolve the disillusion of what was imagined from the get-go. Nothing wrong with some slight of hand, but the overall result meanders on the promise of being hyper meta; an attempt to disrupt the conventional and tummy tuck in the tropes from being too loose and obviously exposed. The attempt is well intentioned, but that’s where the summiting the mountain ceases, at attempted, with a great, low-budget desired, premise aimed to upheave the genre and the audience’s expectations, whirl them all into a massive maelstrom, and spit out a “I fooled you!” expose. One aspect that made the grade were the Creeper Labs FX’s Andy Arrasmith and artist Shelly Denning’s special effects work that held a modest candor of blood and severity when the proverbial shit hit the fan. Heads being lopped off, eviscerated stomachs with guts oozing out, and just enough chainsawing and machete work to go around to properly finish the beautifying of “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” appropriately.
Rack’em and hack’em those chaste cheerleaders with a Blu-ray copy of “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” distributed as the 10th spine from the wild cinema aficionados of Darkside Releasing and MVDVisual. The Blu-ray is presented unrated and in 1080p on a BD-25 with a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The estimated $70,000 crowdfunded budget has a rather aesthetic and sleek digitally recorded imagery, perky with natural lighting and dark tint where appropriate, and is an overall pleasant outcome on a moderately robust budget for indie horror out of Austin, Texas. The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track maintained a balancing act between dialogue and score where the two fought for priority. Dialogue should always have right of way unless intended not, but for the sake of “Virgin’s” story, there’s doubt that drowning out the dialogue momentarily was purposeful. Bonus material includes Brazilian promotional videos, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Bloorhouse Tour with Gary Gannaway being the tour guide himself, a Machete Mike introduction version of the film, and a 16 page booklet that includes stills, original sell sheet cover art, and the birth of the project penned by Gannaway. “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” is meta-sexy, meta-slasher, and meta-fun, but wanders into meta territory a little too long for comfort while still positioning a piecemeal survival horror with fine talent and high kill count.
Anna’s a senior at Little Haven high school whose not thinking about what University to attend after she graduates. Instead, Anna focuses on working all the time as a shoe counter girl at the local bowling alley to pay off a year’s worth of traveling despite her father’s wishes, even working through Christmas, but when a sudden zombie apocalypse derails her and the worlds’ plans, Anna’s friends and father are her first priority. With her father trapped at the high school, Anna and her closest friends must trek and battle through a horde of the undead from the bowling alley before striking out dead themselves. Despite social differences and teenage angst, they must dance and sing to put now frivolous juvenile issues aside and work together if to not become one of the living dead.
Timed just right from 2019’s Christmas holiday season is Second Sight Films’s two-disc set of “Anna and the Apocalypse,” a contagiously fun, well performed, and cheekily gory musical comedy-horror by the United Kingdom’s John McPhail directing a script written by Alan McDonald and the late Ryan McHnery, based off McHenry’s short student film “Zombie Musical.” As true to the marketing behind the film, “Anna and the Apocalypse” is certainly the “High School Musical” with teeth-gnashing, putrid-walking, and flesh hungry zombies. The Scottish bred production comes from Blazing Griffin Films, Parkhouse Productions, Constellation Creatives and Creative Scotland to flash mob dance and sing in chorus through the apocalyptic melee while figuring out their complicated adolescent troubles, such as what to do after graduation, turbulent romantic emotions, and being different and alone.
The ensemble cast is heftily made up of unknown talent beginning with, then 17 year old, Ella Hunt in her debut lead performance as the titular character. Hunt’s a fresh, young face with an astonishing amount of acting range with Anna whose defiant against the wishes of her father, but, deep down inside, still wholeheartedly cares for him as he’s her only parent left alive, and Hunt has natural poppin’ dance moves and pop-star vocals. In Anna’s core group of friends, Sarah Swire’s Steph North stands amongst them as the LGBTQ representative whose strongly portrayed as courageous, caring, and independent while her characterization at the beginning of the films focuses on downing her life to the pit of despair with parents, who Steph claims wants nothing to do with her, are on holiday in Mexico and her romantic partner won’t be spending the holiday with her. Swire’s choreographic and musician background, along with an edgy look, make her a perfect fit for Steph. There’s also Anna’s best friend, a boy named John, played by Malcolm Cummings in his first feature film. Cummings has to be the hapless friend zone boy that remains sidelined when trying to find the opportune time in expressing his true feelings for Anna, but finds himself the third wheel in a high school love triangle conscripted with Nick, a hot-to-trot prick and bully colorfully depicted by Ben Wiggins. Christopher Leveaux and Marli Siu are the gang’s love birds, Mark Benton is Anna’s custodian father, and “Game of Thrones'” Paul Kaye antagonizes with a power hungry assistant headmaster gone crazy!
Honesty, I wasn’t sure how “Anna and the Apocalypse” was going to work, or be successful, or be entertaining at all as a horror movie. Horror-musicals are a rare breed that come with a mind-boggling quantitative algorithm to make them truly work wonders and, somehow, John McPhail dusted off his abacus, powered up his TI calculator, and put note to pen to paper and delivered a holiday spectacular on a horror scale stage. The horror, though very prominent and unmistakable, takes a backseat to the powerful soundtrack by the ensemble cast, ranging from caricatured with Fish Wrap to the desolation of personal connectivity with Human Voice to a couple of Christmas satires to bring a little joy with the merry mayhem. The mayhem is absolute with all the trimmings of a zombie apocalypse, even right down to the military being the butt of a joke when they’re overrun by a slow-moving force, but while there’s some gore early on with a dead head decapitated by a see-saw and a pair of bowling balls pop the top of one alleyway corpse, the blood flows downward to a little more than a dribble and “Anna and the Apocalypse” cobbles together a mere mediocre zombie film from then on out.
Already seen a couple of standard releases from other distributors, Second Sight Films reserved “Anna and the Apocalypse” to the royal treatment with a special features heavy region B, two-disc Blu-ray set containing two versions of the film – the theatrical release cut and the extended version which will include a musical number that didn’t make the theatrical cut. The Arri Alexa SXT shot film is presented in 1080p and in the film’s original aspect ratio, a widescreen 2.37:1, with a featured ProRes 3.2k format that allows upscaling to UHD quality providing a high resolution output that’s clean and bright. The color palate has real vibrancy under the director of photography’s, Sara Deane, direction to use colorful outfits and neoned and darkened sets. Some scenes become a little choppy with some sloppy editing work, but as a whole, the story remains coherent. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 vivaciously energizes the soundtrack with alternative pop numbers, harmonious melodies, and a synchronized chorus, but there are times the dialogue falls into a lossy grey area. A stereo 2.0 track is also available as well as optional English SDH subtitles. The Second Sights Films’ release is chock full of extras with disc one including an audio commentary with director John McPhail, writer Alan McDonald, composers Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an alternate opening scene, a deleted song “What Side Are You On?”, a deleted bathroom scene, the Hollywood Ending cast and crew lip dub, footage from the EdinBurgh Film Festival, and, of course outtakes. Disc two includes a brand new feature-length documentary with new interviews by the actors and filmmakers. Plus, the original short film – “Zombie Musical.” A definite definitive two-disc set from Second Sight Films goes hand-in-hand with “Anna and the Apocalypse’s” feel good charm and unruly undead charisma complete with catchy tunes and bloody zombie goons in a modern day holiday cult classic.