Director John McPhail and actor Mark Benton talk Anna and the Apocalypse's origin story and its cross-generational appeal
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Anna and the Apocalypse is this December season’s must-watch film. The Christmas-zombie-horror-musical-comedy is certainly one of a kind, and has been garnering critical praise and public acclaim across the film festival circuit. Releasing last week across North America and the United Kingdom, the indie Scottish film is set to become a cult classic; I spoke with director John McPhail and star Mark Benton the film’s complicated origin story and their hopes for Anna. As McPhail explains, the making of this indie film was far from smooth-sailing. “It originated as a short film, which was written and directed by Ryan McHenry, and Ryan was paired with our co-written Alan McDonald. Unfortunately, Ryan came down with osteoporosis – a type of bone cancer – and he tried to shoot and go before that, but he passed away. “Naysun [Alae-Carew], who is the lead producer, him and Ryan grew up together, so Naysun didn’t want the project to die or fade away. So what they decided to do was to look for another director and push on from that… and someone had seen my film Where Do We Go from Here? a sort of romantic comedy, coming-of-age film at Glasgow Film Festival, and they’d found it to be full of heart and character. And clearly, they thought that that was what the project needed! Photo courtesy of Duncan McCallum “They approached a few directors that were more on the horror side, and a few in the theatre and musical side, but they just weren’t finding the right balance. Then they asked me if I wanted to come in and pitch for it. So I went home to my mum like ‘I got a job!’” he exclaims. As for how the whole genre mashup thing even happened, McPhail explains that “they always wanted to do the musical side of it because Ryan had seen High School Musical and hated it, and been like ‘This would have been so much better if the zombies had chewed on Zac Efron’s face’. “It was the only musical that I ever watched and didn’t finish… But so, the Christmas side of it was one that came after, but the horror aspect of it and the musical side was always there; when I arrived to the project, there was a couple of different scripts, there was one that was very dark and one that was a bit lighter. And me and Alan worked towards amalgamating that and finding that right balance.” And in regard to that Christmas dimension, “It was Ryan’s idea to set it over Christmas. He was a big fan of Gremlins, and Die Hard… It’s one of those ones where you can’t help but love Christmas. So getting to set a Christmas tree on fire, getting to kill Santa Claus, decapitate Frosty the Snowman, all that kind of stuff is cathartic. But I love Christmas!” he assures. As for how Mark Benton got involved in the production, being cast as Anna’s father, he says that “I’d worked with John before, so you immediately go ‘Yeah, John’s lovely’. And then reading the script, how often do you get offered a Christmas zombie musical? It was a really easy decision for me, I just said yes virtually straightaway. And you wait a while to get it, and with most films it’s touch and go if it’s going to happen, but we moved ahead and I’m very proud of the movie.
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