June 2, 2013
Jeremy Garder as Ben
Adam Cronheim as Mickey
Niels Bolle as Jerry
Alana O'Brien as Annie
What makes the horror genre so great is that all of the passion that fans have for the genre is equal or even greater for many who actuallymake the movies. Low budgets and limited resources almost become rites of passage for new filmmakers who want to bring something new to the genre and cinema at large. These film makers show incredible ingenuity, imagination and talent in producing iconic pieces of cinema on tiny budgets. The likes of Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro show this to be true from their humble beginnings to becoming some of the most celebrated directors of their time. Lucky for us this is a trend that should continue if O. hannah Films and their first production The Batteryhave anything to say about it. Made for a mere $6000 The Battery is a thoroughly accomplished and thoughtful zombie horror film that owes as much to contemplative science fiction like Silent Running and Moon as it does George Romero and might be one of the best films you’ll see in 2013.
A man stands outside of a rural house, the sounds of nature around him. Headphones are planted on his head and indie rock pulses from our speakers as it does into his own head. The music ends abruptly and Mickey (Adam Cronheim, also producer) sits on the steps of the house so he may root around in his bag for replacement batteries for his CD player. Casually, Mickey gets up and walks to the front door of the house to peer inside. Seconds later the voice of his companion Ben (Jeremy Gardner – also writer and director) breaks the stillness of the scene and they both flee, Ben firing a couple of gunshots into the house before following after Mickey. The zombie apocalypse has happened, the human population has been blitzed and almost wiped out. Dan and Mickey are backpacking through rural Connecticut scavenging what they can and making every attempt to avoid encounters with the undead. Originally little more than friendly acquaintances who played for the same minor league baseball team, thrust together by this dire situation they could not be more different. Mickey with gel in his hair and well-maintained goatee uses his headphones and music as an escape, struggling to loosen his grip on a life in a society that no longer exists. Ben instead seems like something of a misanthrope, unkempt with wild hair and a beard that is wilder still he seems to relish his new survivalist lifestyle. Against a beautiful backdrop of lakes, woods and fields we observe in intimate detail these two men as they attempt to not only survive their new environment but to adapt to and make peace with it. But to err is human and when the undead are not your only threat, every decision can mean life and death.
The Battery may feature a world where zombies have decimated the population, but this is a small-scale character piece first and foremost. With a relaxed pace we are drawn into the world of two survivors played with realism and likability by both leads, that we come to know and root for. Writer/director/star Jeremy Gardner has crafted a story that strikes a perfect blend of horror and character while also leaving room for a quiet and thoughtful consideration of a world hit with devastating cataclysm. Mickey sits in a camping chair with a string of scratch-off lottery tickets, celebrating and boasting to Ben when he wins $1000 on one of them. His headphones and CD player create a protective wall around him, protecting him from the terrible truth that the world and people he knew no longer exist. He struggles to even admit the inhuman monsters he now sees are not people and he refused to even call them zombies. Ben is a whole different kettle of fish as while Mickey denies his situation Ben embraces it. He fishes, scours for supplies and puts himself in harms way so he and Mickey can continue to survive. When faced with a zombie he puts them out of their misery with zeal, insisting on killing every single one he encounters. This dynamic is at the core of this film as Ben grows tired of always being the one to do all the real work while his companion remains in denial, knowing that if Mickey doesn’t change his ways it could lead to one or both of their deaths. The viewer is never separated from at least one of the two characters, the camera is never too far from its subjects and with that brings an intimate atmosphere and a sense of the closeness that these two different men are forced to live.
So well-crafted is this relationship and the viewers’ connection to it that this first time director Jeremy Gardner is able to pull off scenes that show immense confidence and accomplishment. Scenes of the characters entertaining themselves, such as playing catch or getting drunk together would be largely mundane played out in real life but here they are the part of these two men surviving. The Battery suggests that these men do not just need each others’ support to avoid being eaten by zombies but they are each the only living human that the other is able to interact with. Beautiful shots of rural Connecticut (DOP Christian Stella’s steady hand and an eye for capturing natural beauty is so important) are the backdrop for the relationship between these two men and their experiences, and the care and time put into scenes just as these pay dividends as the film reaches it’s climax. Music is also hugely important to the film, just as it is to the characters, and when it entirely takes over the sound of the film it draws us that much deeper into the psyches of these two men. The music is well chosen too evoking the perfect mood to accompany the visuals. All of the visual and audio cues and the natural performances of the two leads it more than justifies the confidence the that shines through in the last 30 minutes of the film. Confined to one small space space and it’s a credit to all involved that it works as well as it does both dramatically and practically. The time the audience spends investing in these characters is expertly put to the test in an incredible 8-minute-long one-shot sequence. The audience must sit in agonizing uncertainty and suspense as we wait to see if one man’s heroism is enough to save them both . It is an absolute master stroke that leads us to a very fitting and satisfying conclusion to The Battery and it is a rich reward to both the audience and the filmmakers that the whole climax works so magnificently.
Zombie movies have been absolutely run into the ground these past few years and it is hugely satisfying to see a film like The Battery that steps outside of that formulaic comfort zone and delivers something truly special. The Battery is a beautiful, exciting and original independent horror masterpiece that you will not soon forget.