The Battery

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 The Battery

-Review by Nic Brown-

 

Zombies. That is a word that has invaded our popular culture as ravenously as any virus shown in a horror film. George Romero created the principle archetype when his slow, shambling, unfeeling, flesh-eating ghouls first shocked audiences in 1968. From those low-budget, indie film roots, a host of films has spawned. Many, like the 2004 remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead had major studio backing and received national theatrical releases. The genre has even jumped from the big screen to TV with AMC’s wildly successful The Walking Dead and its spin-off Fear The Walking Dead. Of course the low budget indie film world has latched onto the undead as firmly as a reanimated corpse biting that likable but careless member of every party of zombocolypse survivors.  

 

There are many reasons why zombie movies are popular fodder for low budget filmmakers. For one thing, it has a large mainstream following. Horror Fans are not the only ones watching the The Walking Dead, which has been consistently among the highest rated shows on cable television for years. Filmmakers see that show’s popularity as a doorway to a broader, more non-traditional audience.  Another thing that makes zombie films attractive is their relative ease to create; grab a few friends, slap some Halloween shop make-up on them and tear up their clothes, and you’ve got a zombie horde. That’s not to say that filmmakers have to go low-end for zombies, but it is possible and it still generally works. Because of this, indie zombie movies have filled the market, which can make it hard to notice a good film in the genre. Fortunately the indie zombie film The Battery managed to stand out among the horde of competitors.

 

The Battery is a road movie that follows Ben (Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim), two survivors of a zombie apocalypse, who are wandering the back roads of New England. They were both on a baseball team so Ben’s weapon of choice is his baseball bat, although he has a pistol and is not afraid to use it. Their common love of baseball and their shared experiences since the ‘zombocolypse’ seem to be their only real link and although they are now friends, the pair have taken to the new reality of their world in very different ways.  Ben is a survivor; he appreciates the way things work in the ‘brave new world’. Mickey, on the other hand, is reluctant to accept the changes. He spends much of his time as they wander the countryside with his headphones on, blasting music to drown out the world around him.

 

Mickey’s desire to escape the reality of their existence is a problem for Ben on several levels. As a friend, Ben hates to see Mickey living in what amounts to an almost state of delusion when the headphones are on. On a much more practical level, Ben is afraid that Mickey’s detachment from reality is going to get one or both of them killed as Ben is the one who must repeatedly deal with any threats they encounter. For his part, Mickey seems almost selfishly determined to minimize his participation in the basic survival requirements.


Their wanderings bring them back to familiar territory as the pair find Mickey’s girlfriend’s house. Unfortunately, this does not turn out the way Mickey had hoped and there is no evidence that she is still alive. Instead Mickey retreats more into his withdrawn state when they find the house, like everywhere else they’ve visited, abandoned.

 

Mickey does become more animated and involved after the pair tries out some walkie-talkies they find. During their test, they accidentally eavesdrop on another conversation, one that shows there are other survivors. They hear a woman named Annie talking about ‘The Orchard’ with another man. This is apparently a group of organized survivors. When Ben and Mickey try contacting The Orchard, the man on the line tells them flatly that they are not welcome and to stay away. He then instructs Annie not to talk to them.

 

Ben takes the belligerent attitude of the survivors in The Orchard in stride and moves on. Mickey, however, sees The Orchard as a chance to recapture some of what he has lost and bring stability and normalcy back into his life. He becomes particularly infatuated with Annie, a woman he only knows through one brief, eavesdropped conversation. He tries repeatedly to get her to respond to him on the radio.


When the pair come to an isolated home in the woods, Mickey insists that they spend the night there rather than in the Volvo station wagon they have used as their mobile home. Ben is not happy; he doesn’t like being ‘trapped’ inside buildings but he agrees.

 

During their stay, Mickey finally gets a response from Annie on the radio. It is worse than he’d imagined. She warns him to stay away and stop trying to reach her, telling him that if the others in The Orchard knew she’d even sent this short message, the consequences for her would be grave.

 

Later, the pair learns that Mickey should have listened to Annie’s warning as they find themselves trapped inside their car, surrounded by a relentless group of undead. Their circumstances are a direct result of Mickey’s persistence in both his denial of the reality of their situation and his desire to find Annie despite her warnings. Now, after days trapped in their car and with supplies running low, the pair must take desperate action. The question is: will Mickey be up for what has to be done?

 

The Battery is micro-budget, independent filmmaking at its best. Jeremy Gardner (Ben) wrote and directed the film, which was made over the course of several weeks for an estimated cost of $6,000. This number is incredibly small compared to most ‘Hollywood’ independent films where they consider a budget below $250,000 to be micro-budget. However, unlike many indie films of a similar budget, the filmmakers didn’t let their lack of budget compromise the core essentials of a good film: story and character development.

In The Battery the story is a simple one of survival and emotional growth, or perhaps lack thereof, but it is fertile soil for the development of the characters as we watch Mickey change and grow, and at the same time see Ben, who at first seems to be unchanging as the story advances, reveal hidden aspects of himself. Indeed both characters are affected by their journey, but in different ways.

 

The other aspect of The Battery that makes it stand out is the actual production itself. The film is, put simply, well made. The cinematography, by Christian Stella, is first class and creative, and unlike many indie films, the filmmakers also paid attention to sound design, so the audio is crisp and clean, allowing it to enhance rather than detract from the story. Along similar lines, the film’s use of music is creative and clever. Since many scenes focus on Mickey and his ever present headphones, this is key to making The Battery work.


Some horror enthusiasts have been disappointed by The Battery due to its minimalist use of the actual zombie threat. They are not encountered in every scene. In fact it is not until later in the film that we actually see one on screen. The first ‘kill’ is done off screen to emphasize Mickey’s detachment from the world. The film also follows a slower pace than most horror movies. This doesn’t build tension so much as allow the characters to become more fully developed than your typical zombie film survivors.


Ultimately, if viewers are looking for a blood and guts gore fest with hordes of undead, The Battery may not be for you. However, if you’re seeking a well-made, independent film that is several cuts above the normal fair, the checkout The Battery. But remember if you do, not to wear your headphones… those things could get you killed!


 

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