Horror movies have always traded on two key things; novelty and transgression. They’ve also always held a dark secret; the more “high concept” those two are, the more likely it is that a film will try to trade on those elements alone and not bother to actually be any good in and of itself. So, it’s with great joy and relief that I can confirm that this zombie musical coming-of-age Christmas movie is also a great movie. Well, assuming that you like the idea of multiple song-and-dance numbers mixed with blood-soaked scenes of walking dead induced slaughter.
The global set-up for the film is straightforward; zombies have started turning up and they want to eat the living. It’s on the news, and governments are doing their best to stop the situation from spreading. But that’s not important right now: what is important is that it’s the end of Christmas term in Little Haven, Scotland, and Anna (Ella Hunt) and just told her widowed dad (Mark Benton) that she wants to spend a year traveling in Australia rather than going to University after her exams. Meanwhile, her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming) is trying to work out how to tell her he loves her, exchange student Steph (Sarah Swire) is being frustrated by the school’s vice-principal, and Vice-Principal Savage (Peter Kaye) is being a right bastard.
We know all these vital details, because of the musical numbers that set up the first act. They are all full song and dance routines, breaking all sense of cinematic realism but done with a huge dose of emotional authenticity. It’s also got an amazing teenage feel to it, with moves and lyrics that you can imagine teenagers thinking they could do if they tried, and, most shockingly, regional accents. The tunes aren’t bad either and will hang around in your head for a good while. Whilst none of them will be getting Tony Awards, they are fun and enlivening, and really dig into the hyper-faux-reality of what it is to be a teenager.
We also know the zombies are coming, because of some nicely done foreshadowing that lets us in on the gag even if the characters can’t see what’s about to go down. Once things start properly rolling it’s as spirited and fun as the music, but with far more blood and viscera. Using that special magic of leaning on the comedy side of things, there is strong violence through the second and third acts that is surprisingly gory. It’s also surprisingly hysterical and just gets funnier when combined into the dance numbers. Yes; there are prolonged sequences of singing, dancing, and zombie violence. Yes, they are brilliant.
It would be unfair to pick out anyone as a standout in the movie, other than Hunt for playing the titular Anna as she gets to carry the main plot and emotional core of the story. This truly is an ensemble work, with everyone giving their all and all the main roles having space to come alive and, quite importantly, do interesting things in the plot. There are enough twists and turns to keep things interesting, including on an emotional front as that plays out impressively realistically, both for a musical and a zombie film.
This is helped by the script, which is a fundamentally solid slice of zombie invasion story. For something that is, it has to be said, a gimmick-driven movie, it would be perfectly possible to remove the musical parts and be left with a reasonably enjoyable young-adult zombie film. However, it would be nowhere near as fun, and certainly not as uplifting, as the finished product we now have. It’s fresh, it’s energetic, it’s got laugh-out-loud moments, it’s got scenes that’ll bring a tear to your eye, and it’s got zombies both eating people and having the shit kicked out of them. Quite why more people aren’t aware of it, and why there isn’t a full-blown stage show in the works, I have no clue. My fingers are crossed that it’ll become a sleeper hit, and I can only encourage you to watch this absolute Treasure as soon as you can.