If you are wondering what director John McPhail is up to these days, you can find him either playing Red Dead Redemption 2, like everyone else in the world, watching his favorite movie of all-time, Ghostbusters, or going through numerous scripts that continue to pile up on his desk, thanks in part to the success of Anna and the Apocalypse, which lands in theaters across the U.S. this holiday season, via Orion Pictures.
“I was unrepresented prior to the film. I hadn’t released one in ages,” McPhail said. “Now, I have people wanting to meet with me regularly. I’m in a really fortunate position, with two LA-based agents, that are definitely looking after me and have sent me a few exciting scripts. My next film has to surpass Anna and the Apocalypse though. The bar has been set there. So, it’s really important for me to say ‘no’ more than it is for me to say ‘yes’, at the moment.”
Anna and the Apocalypse tells the story of a zombie takeover in the sleepy little town of Little Haven, at Christmas. Anna, played by Ella Hunt, and her friends, John (Malcolm Cumming), Lisa (Marli Siu), Chris (Christopher Leveaux), Steph (Sarah Swire) and resident bully, Nick (Ben Wiggins), are tasked with slashing and singing their way to survival, in a desperate race to reach their parents and loved ones. They soon discover, however, no one is safe in this new undead world and, as civilization continues to crumble all around them, the only people they can rely on are each other.
“This cast is simply brilliant,” McPhail proclaimed. “We went through 500 audition tapes and came up with this group. Funny enough, I saw Marli in a play a few months prior. I was in the bar area at the theater, and standing next to me was this little Canadian blonde, who turned out was Sarah. Their auditions blew us away. The cast came together quickly, but the one that we had yet to cast was John’s character. I searched high and low because I needed someone that could embrace the physicality and nervousness of the character. We eventually found Malcolm. I was already familiar with him and knew he would be great for the role, but I just needed him to be able to sing and, fortunately, he could.”
If you were lucky enough to have already seen this film, like we did at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival in October, then you know how good it is. The world is ready for a zombie musical and the bar has been set. High. This is one of those films that will satisfy the gore-seeking horror fans of the undead genre, those toe-tapping musical enthusiasts, those laugh-hungry comedy lovers and those heartfelt storyline solicitors. This film has it all.
“I actually love this film. It has so much heart and that is what drew me to it,” stated McPhail. “We are so happy with how it came together. We had a great cast and crew. I’m a horror fan by nature and I was terrified about making them happy, but also in appealing to fans of the musical genre as well. It’s in a sweet spot, I think, where horror fans won’t look at it, assume it’s for kids and, on the other end of the spectrum, kids won’t have to feel like they have to sneak in because it may seem like an R-rated film. Horror fans and musical fans have collectively really embraced it, so I’m extremely happy about that.”
The project is a testament to the writer, Ryan McHenry, who initially had intentions of making it a short film and calling it, A Zombie Musical. You might remember him as the creator of the Vine series, Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat Cereal, which garnered overnight fame and, upon his passing from his second battle with Cancer in 2015, earned him a shoutout from the man, himself.
“One of his final wishes was to have this film completed,” said McPhail. “We expanded it and then adapted it as a feature film. I was given so much freedom and trust to make this film my own, while still paying tribute to Ryan’s initial idea and we all feel as if it came together well.”
The ending to Anna and the Apocalypse definitely leaves the door open. When asked about that, McPhail said, “We always talked about how we collectively agreed that there would be no sequel, but what we have thrown around is the idea of having the same cast, but in a different scenario. So, for example, we do a musical in space, or something quirky like that. Just throwing the cast into a whole new world. It’s just an idea, but that would be way on down the line if we do it.”
In the past, if you would have suggested to this up-and-coming director that you were bringing him to a musical, you’d have to drag him, kicking and screaming. Though, during his research for preparing for Anna and the Apocalypse, he channeled such classics as, Little Shop of Horrors, Moulin Rouge! and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He stressed that the songs had to work for the story, continue it and drive the characters.
In the end, this project came together great! However, it wasn’t about him. He is selfless by nature and just wants what’s best for those around him. When asked if he was ready for the success that will surely follow the release of the film this winter season, he stated his hopes of seeing it take the mantle with some other timeless and popular holiday favorites.
“Seeing people enjoy this film, that’s it for me. I make films for the audience,” McPhail proclaimed. “We’re fortunate for this to be going to cinema. I want you to come out and just enjoy yourself. Forget everything that is going on in life at the moment and just have fun for 1.5 hours. My hope is that this becomes a holiday classic, with the likes of The Muppet Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life. Maybe it becomes this generation’s Gremlins or Die Hard (laughs).”
Anna and the Apocalypse is McPhail’s second feature film as he had previously written and directed 2015’s Where Do We Go From Here?, a romantic comedy. It’s a story about James, who gets a job and moves into a senior care home to be closer to his grandfather and also meets a nurse named Jen. James hedges a scheme to break his grandfather out, in conjunction with his elderly friends, to go on an adventure together.
“My grandfather had passed away while I was making my short films,” McPhail said. “Your grandparents champion your goals and aspirations. We’re all fortunate to have them in our lives. They are our cheerleaders in life. They embrace you to go succeed or make mistakes. They don’t care, so long as you’re happy. Your parents will ride you the whole way and tell you that you have to do things a certain way, whereas your grandparents just want you to enjoy yourself. There’s just love. That was the inspiration behind me making that film. It’s about friendship, family and respecting your elders, but it’s fun and I hope left people feeling good about themselves.”
Be sure to check out Where Do We Go From Here? and definitely keep an eye out for Anna and the Apocalypse this holiday season. The film will land in select theaters in California, Texas and New York, starting on November 30, in places like AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas, and continue to expand across the country from Dec. 7-12.
Anna and the Apocalypse will soon even debut in countries like Germany, Spain and Portugal, but is so popular ahead of its worldwide release that it has even ‘unearthed’ the flash mob craze again (see what we did there? We’ll see ourselves out). For more about 2017’s epic Popcorn Frights Film Festival, click HERE.
The official motion picture soundtrack is now available.
Visit aatafilm.com, the official motion picture website, for more information and updates.
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