Much like the undead lurking within their frames, zombie films continue to shamble inexorably onward, with seemingly no end in sight. It boggles my mind that a sub-genre of Horror cinema that peaked in the 80s has ingrained itself so deeply into contemporary pop culture. If you told me twenty years ago that zombie video games and television shows would now be the norm, I wouldn’t have believed you. (Though I really would have wanted to!)
If I seem jaded towards zombie cinema well, it’s because I am. The movie monsters that I grew up loving have sort of lost their appeal now that they have become mainstream attractions. But every now and again, I’ve been surprised by some of the newer entries in this tired sub-genre. The DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, DEAD SNOW, ZOMBIELAND, COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES, and even WARM BODIES have all proven that the wells of creativity aren’t totally depleted, and that new life can still be breathed into zombie sub-genre!
Which brings me to Jeremy Gardner’s THE BATTERY. Filmed in two weeks, on a paltry budget of six-thousand dollars, Gardner’s zombie film makes the bold move of making the undead threat totally secondary. The film instead centers on two survivors of the zombie apocalypse, Ben (writer/director Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim). These former baseball players have been on the road for months, gathering resources and keeping on the move.
Ben is the more pragmatic of the two: He’s accepted what the world has become, and is prepared to do what it takes to survive. Mickey on the other hand is having an extremely hard time coping with everything. He refuses to kill zombies, and is constantly blasting his ear drums with music from his CD Walkman. While Ben finds it rather easy to drift from town to town and sleep in the back of a car, Mickey longs for the chance to settle down in one spot and sleep in an actual bed.
They are two immensely different characters, but they have a symbiotic relationship. Together they are a “battery,” which is a baseball term for a pitcher and catcher that act as a single unit. (Hence the film’s title.) Ben protects Mickey from external threats, and Mickey helps Ben retain his sanity.
It’s pretty obvious early on that Ben would probably be better off leaving his friend behind, because Mickey is dead weight for the most part. However, without Mickey’s conscience and romantic views of the world to keep him (sort of) grounded, one has to wonder if Ben would slowly go mad and turn “feral.”
As the movie plays out, Ben and Mickey’s friendship tests its mettle, particularly when they discover that other people have survived the zombie plague. Mickey, being an idealist, quickly finds that the other remnants of humanity are none too friendly, which ultimately leads to a sad (and rather drawn out) conclusion for our protagonists.
Initially, I was kind of turned off by THE BATTERY because it wasn’t filtered to give the illusion that it was shot on film. This is mainly because I’m a devout lover of 35mm cinema, with an antiquated notion that movies look best when shown at 24 frames per second. But the framerate, and the format a movie is shot on is irrelevant: It’s what is captured on film that matters most. With that said, THE BATTERY is a beautifully shot movie, featuring characters you can actually care about.
While most films of this type place a large emphasis on the origins of the zombie epidemic, the breakdown of society, and gory f/x, Gardner’s film does not. It instead places the focus on the interactions between Ben and Mickey during the twilight of mankind’s existence. Does it matter how the zombie plague began? No. Are they heading to a place they believe to be a sanctuary? Again, no. They’re just two guys, wandering across Connecticut, and looking for food and shelter.
Ofttimes they both act like siblings, with Ben being the sage “older brother” that knows best. He is always on Mickey’s case, desperately trying to mold his weaker friend into a survivor. And Ben isn’t above hazing his “younger brother,” as evidenced when he catches Mickey yanking his crank while ogling a “sexy zombie” (yes, you read that right, there is a masturbation sequence in this film), or when he later traps Mickey in a room with a zombie in an act of tough love.
Jeremy Gardner, the film’s director, writer, and star, should be proud of what he has crafted here. THE BATTERY is a solid, character-driven film that is peppered with elements of zombie films. The undead are an ever-present threat in the world that our main characters are trapped in, but they never take center stage until the climax. While this may irk many of you zombie film fans, trust me when I say that this proved to be a smart decision.
I was pleasantly surprised by THE BATTERY: I didn’t have high expectations for it, but I kept an open mind and it slowly won me over. The film’s two leads put in good performances, the quirky (but cool) soundtrack is great, and the “less is more” makeup f/x is well done. While I do enjoy gore-drenched zombie flicks with tons of cranial carnage, I found this small-scale zombie flick rather refreshing.
For a film made by a first-time director with a tiny budget, little planning, and a variety of behind-the-scenes issues, the final result is quite impressive. Congrats to all involved with this production because your efforts just earned you a respectable:
The Packaging: THE BATTERY comes in a standard blu-ray case and, like many other Scream Factory titles, has reversible cover art.
Audio & Video: The movie is presented in 1080p high-def in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and the picture quality is crystal clear! The disc also offers up two audio options: DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, and 2.0. I listened to the movie in 5.1 and have no complaints; the dialogue and music come through nice and clear.
The Extras: THE BATTERY comes with a good selection of special features. Along with the typical theatrical trailer (as well as trailers for BENEATH, DEAD SHADOWS, and CHILLING VISIONS: 5 SENSES OF FEAR), there’s an audio commentary featuring writer, director and actor Jeremy Gardner, producer and actor Adam Cronheim, and director of photography Christian Stella. As of my typing this review, I have yet to sit down and watch the film with the commentary on, so I can’t comment on it further.
I did however find time to watch the “Outtakes Reel” (which runs at approximately twelve minutes or so), and the feature-length making-of featurette, entitled TOOLS OF IGNORANCE: THE MAKING OF THE BATTERY. This is a fantastic look at the making of the film, and covers just about everything. There are lots of fun interviews, humorous anecdotes, and plenty of info on the trials and tribulations of filming a low-budget feature by the seat of one’s pants. I highly recommend you watch this after the film!
Finally, the disc is rounded out with ROCK PLAZA CENTRAL AT THE PARLOR, a short ten-minute video that the filmmakers shot at a live performance by Rock Plaza Central, whose music is used in the film.
Final Verdict: THE BATTERY is definitely not for all tastes, but for those of you who like it enough to own it, this Blu-ray disc is worth picking up. The film looks and sounds great, and the wealth of extras will give you an entirely different perspective on the movie, and filmmaking in general. Scream Factory has delivered yet another quality release, and I hereby give their BATTERY Blu-ray: