NOVEMBER 16, 2013
I'm about to shower a lot of praise on The Battery, but if you're a longtime reader or just know me personally, here's the most significant: I was happy to leave a Halloween convention early in order to see the film. That's pretty big; you know I live and breathe Halloween, and I could have even hosted another panel if I stuck around (incidentally, the scheduled moderator was at the same screening), but after raves from my friend AJ (and a positive review from Evan at Badass) I knew I'd regret missing the chance to watch the film with a crowd, and so off I went, missing some Hallo-fun (and a party) to sit in a folding chair and watch a projected Blu-ray... and I loved every minute of it.
If anything I should be pissed; a while back I wrote out an idea for a stripped down zombie movie that was closer to Cast Away than to Dawn of the Dead, and if I were to ever get it made (yeah, right) the first review would probably say "Rips off The Battery". But that's fine, writer/director/star Jeremy Gardner probably did it better than I would (well, I wouldn't have starred or directed, but you know what I mean), because he has the patience to stick to character instead of going for zombie action whenever things might get "slow" in the traditional sense. With only two people in the movie for the most part (the film has opening credits that spoil that won't always be the case - I wish they had gone without opening titles so it would have been more of a surprise when someone else shows up), it's not like much action SHOULD happen - after all there's little chance either of them will be offed until the movie's almost over (if then), so it wouldn't be very suspenseful to have them trying to outrun a horde of zombies.
And yes, they're zombies. The good (read: slow) kind, and the characters know what zombies are and will use the word when appropriate. It's one of many things that makes this feel like a much more realistic film than most z-territory; they're not oblivious to what the things could be (when the film opens, headshots seem to have been figured out, if not already known off the bat), nor are they in a hyper-realized version of the world and quoting Romero (or Wright/Pegg) to (over)sell the idea that this is not a "movie" universe. Nope, it goes down exactly as it might if you or I were among the last of the living and rarely facing immediate threat from the undead. The backstory of how the zombies came to be isn't explained, but it seems that the zombie numbers aren't much greater than that of the human race - it's not until the end that we see more than 1-2 at a time.
As a result, this allows for a lot of "hanging out". The two characters, Ben (Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim) are a pair of baseball players who are just sort of roaming around Connecticut in their station wagon, stopping for supplies when necessary but otherwise never setting up a home base. We learn that they were shacked up in a house but became surrounded by zombies and trapped for days, and thus now they approach it like they are sharks: if they stop moving, they'll die. This allows the scenery to change up a lot, but also works as a throwaway explanation for why they're not in danger all that often, giving them a chance to play catch, go apple picking, or just hang out drinking beers and (in Mickey's case) listening to a Discman. There's a truly hilarious bit where Ben pretends to be a zombie creeping up on the plugged-in (and thus deaf) Mickey that serves as a perfect example as the kind of character-based humor that the film excels at, something that's often missing entirely from most modern zombie films, which are usually more concerned with new ways of killing the damn things than making sure we care about the guy holding the makeshift hammer or whatever the hell.
This low-key approach makes the 3rd act stuff work even better than it would if it came at the end of a typical NOTLD wannabe (mild spoilers ahead!). Rather than the usual "Characters find key to salvation, have to overcome insurmountable odds to secure it" or "There's a boat/chopper/jet/whatever waiting and we have until x o clock to get there!" run n gun finale, the two heroes find themselves trapped in their car, surrounded on all sides by zombies with the keys somewhere in the bushes outside. For a while, the sequence plays as the rest of the film does - they just sort of hang out, passing the time until the zombies leave or they simply die from thirst or starvation, with the undead (lightly) banging the windows 24 hours a day (they're in there for a few days). Finally, one character decides to make another attempt at finding the keys, and rather than go with him for what would probably be an exciting little action sequence, we stay on the one who remained in the car. I might be wrong but I think it's one long 7-8 minute shot as he waits for his friend to return, agonizing over every sound, desperate to find something to occupy his mind... it's an astonishingly great scene.
So how can you see this film? Well, being an indie without traditional distribution as of yet (something that baffles me; it's been on the festival circuit for about a year now), you can actually buy a digital download of it for a mere 5 bucks from the director himself. You can, and should, do that HERE. I've paid more than that to rent a film on demand, so to OWN it and watch however times you like even after a stupid 24 hour window has expired is a pretty great deal for any movie, let alone one as good as this. Big thanks to Elric and the Jumpcut Cafe for hosting the screening, and to AJ for giving it a loving intro despite being sick. I am truly impressed, and eagerly wait Gardner's next film.
What say you?