(Pluto/VOD) There are movies that have musical moments, there are musical movies, and then there are film musicals. I find that differences are somewhat slight: musical moments are films that have a handful of scenes where the characters burst into song, usually to a well-recognized pop culture song, to underpin whatever emotional state they’re feeling. (Think the jukebox moment in SOUTHLAND TALES when Justin Timberlake lip synced to THE KILLERS’ -I Got Soul- which I both love and hate that I love.) Musical movies are adaptations gussied up to conform to the needs of the film viewer. (I’m trying to keep to modern references, so: Tom Hooper’s LES MISERABLES or, uh, CATS* but also previously recommended, and non-modern, THE MUSIC MAN.)
Then there are film musicals, which aren’t adaptations, and often are labeled as ’rock opera’, despite often being neither. They follow the scripted structure of a musical, and then they just film it. It’s too grandiose to fit within the required guidelines of a Broadway music, but the creators -love- traditional musical narrative structure, and are dead-set on realizing their creation. They’re rarer because they’re often fan efforts. For every ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, we also get five REPO! THE GENETIC OPERAs**.
ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE definitely falls in the latter camp, and emphasis on camp. It’s based on the short film ZOMBIE MUSICAL (but I’ll warn you that it’s definitely an early draft of a feature film) — and it toys with the format, including one musical number well-worth the price of admission where lead Anna (a very elastic DICKENSON’s Ella Hunt) and her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming) obliviously sing through zombie anarchy due to a transformative evening which, yes, cribs from SHAUN OF THE DEAD and Zack Synder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD but manages to do its own thing. I do wish the music was stronger though — the songs are fine but, apart from a few exceptions, they’re mostly forgettable — but it’s a fun time, especially if you’re into both comical horror and musicals.
Lastly, if you’re interested in musical narrative storytelling, Jack Viertel’s THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN MUSICAL is a revelation. He does an amazing job of deconstructing how musical narratives work in ways that will blow your mind.
* Sorry not sorry, but I find the film far more watchable than the stage production, even though Tom Hooper should never have been given this project.
** For what it’s worth, I do admire the hard-scrabble pluck of REPO!. I sat in on a Q&A where the writer and director went into detail as to how they finagled specific SAW sequel scenes just so they could film specific REPO! scenes for free, and good for them for realizing their vision through whatever means necessary!