Ella Hunt

Anna and the Apocalypse

07/12/18

Last summer, wandering around my home city in the vicinity of the Usher Hall, I came across something entirely unexpected. A strange crowd had collected in front of the building – not the usual ticket-bearing punters, queuing to see the latest concert, but a motley assortment of blood-spattered zombies, growling at me in a most disconcerting manner, while more soberly attired actors handed out inflatable candy canes.

What was it all in aid of, I wondered? One young woman informed me that they were starring in an upcoming film called Anna and the Apocalypse, a movie shot in and around Glasgow, and they were celebrating the fact that they’d just signed a distribution deal with ‘a major player.’ Their energy and enthusiasm was infectious. I took the opportunity to snap a selfie with one of the undead and went on my way.

Now, a little over six months later, the film is in the cinemas and, given my unusual introduction to it, I find myself wanting to like it a little more than I actually do. It’s by no means terrible, you understand, but this spirited mash-up of Shaun of the DeadHigh School Musical and er… White Christmas, has the ghost of those rather better films hanging over it and, try as I might, I can’t quite dispel them.

The eponymous Anna (Ella Hunt) is a self-assured teenager who feels somewhat constrained by the sleepy town of Little Haven, where she lives with her father, Tony (Mark Benton). Her mother has recently shuffled off the mortal coil and Anna is considering taking a year out before starting uni, so she can travel and see a bit more of the world. Meanwhile, she interacts with her best buddy, John (Malcolm Cumming), works part time down the local bowling alley and puts up with the caustic remarks of the snide school head, Mr Savage (Paul Kaye). And then, on the night of the high school Christmas concert, a zombie epidemic breaks out…

Of course, given the subject matter, this was always going to be compared with Shaun, but it’s particularly damning when Anna’s best scene is almost a rerun of the one where Simon Pegg’s character pays a visit to the corner shop and, in the midst of total devastation, fails to notice that anything is amiss. Still, there’s plenty to like here, despite that. The songs, by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly are catchy; Hunt (who was absolutely the best thing about The More You Ignore Me) clearly has a big cinematic future ahead of her; and this is sprightly and funny enough to keep a late-night crowd happy.

Who knows, maybe in years to come that festive theme might turn this into a cult Christmas hit – and that’s clearly the filmmakers’ intention, as they pile on the tinsel and mistletoe a little too relentlessly for comfort. I’d also like to see a few genuine scares thrown into the mixture. Though this is as bloody and visceral as the genre demands, it never really unnerves me. And, for good measure, a film shot in Scotland and funded by the Scottish Arts Council, might have worked better if there’d been a few more Scottish actors (and accents) in the mix.

Though… and I could be way off beam here… is that (an uncredited) David Tenant briefly acting the role of one of the undead?

Anyhow, Anna and the Apocalypse is a fun film and, those fancying a giggle could do a lot worse than this.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

The More You Ignore Me

13/07/18

The More You Ignore Me, written by Jo Brand and directed by Keith English, has the potential to be very good. Based on Brand’s 2009 novel, it tells the tale of Alice (Ella Hunt), a teenager struggling to cope with the demands of her mother’s mental illness.

Things at home are tough: her dad (Mark Addy) is a gentle soul, and he does his best to keep things ticking along, but he’s not having much success. Alice’s mum, Gina (Sheridan Smith), spends most of her time immobilised by medication, sedated into a miserable paralysis – relieved only by episodes of psychosis, when she becomes volatile, railing against a world that can’t accommodate her needs. Alice is isolated: she can’t invite friends over to her house, and even though she has a lovely boyfriend, Mark (Alexander Morris), she’s persona non grata as far as his small-minded parents are concerned, the stigma of her mother’s condition being far too much for them to comprehend.

And then, one day, Ella hears The Smiths performing on TV and – like so many 80s teens – identifies with Moz’s lost-boy lyrics, convinced at last that there is somebody who really understands. She writes to Morrissey, pouring out her heart. And – to her delight – he actually replies.

It ought to work. Morrissey himself might have slipped from grace in recent years (oh Moz, I wish you didn’t think the way you do), but The Smiths songs stand the test of time, and I’d rather judge the art than the artist anyway. And Ella Hunt is mesmerising in the lead role, giving a subtle, heart-rending performance that always elicits sympathy. Mark Addy is terrific too, all good intentions and broken heart. Sally Phillips’ turn as the UK’s only under-worked GP is a nice diversion, Alexander Morris is convincingly awkward, and Clive Mantle’s Dunk is a beacon of hope.

But there’s a curious disconnect between these understated, naturalistic characters and the cartoonishly broad strokes applied to Gina and her family. The cast is strong – Sheridan Smith is undoubtedly a fine actor, and Sheila Hancock ought to be a good choice to play her mother. But it doesn’t work: it’s like they’ve wandered in from another, much worse, movie. There’s no nuance here, no sense of who they are and, in Gina’s case, of what’s been lost. Her father and brothers (Ricky Tomlinson, Tom Davis and Tony Way) are even more ridiculous, a trio of stereotypes with no credibility.

In the end, I’m left feeling frustrated by this film, not least because Ella Hunt’s performance deserves a more consistent vehicle.

3 stars

Susan Singfield