In screenwriting you are told to show, not tell; whereas in horror cinema the “rules” dictate you tell about the threat and restrict the audience's access to seeing the threat. The Battery succeeds at both. Even though the film debuted at the Telluride Horror Show last October, its recent VOD release correlates well with the upcoming World War Z debacle. In World War Z we will witness millions of dollars at waste in an attempt to find the balance between character and imminent doom, which The Battery does perfectly with a minuscule budget of $6,000.
It is a film that instantly reminds you of Night Of The Living Dead, because at every moment you feel it was a labor of love. Like Night we have a story that focuses more on humanity than it does the zombie threat. The nihilism of Night is modernized in The Battery for the millennial generation as an overall sense of apathy in the face of hopelessness. There is no heavy-handed social commentary, nor are there ridiculously detailed post-apocalyptic settings. We get two baseball players attempting to come to terms with their new role as survivors, while wandering aimlessly through the countryside.
The realism of the film stems from the intimacy of the two characters that are thrown together by circumstance and the friendship that evolves as a result. They are forced by the destruction of humanity to form a close, almost claustrophobic, relationship. Ben, played by Jeremy Gardner (also the director), has fully taken on the role of survivalist when the film begins. Mickey (Adam Cronheim) is constantly at battle with his need of community or any semblance of life as it was before. Mickey hides from the world under a pair of headphones while Ben does everything else. Mickey's innocence and hope may be naive, but it works as a great juxtaposition for the two characters. Ben wants him to be able to fiend for himself, but also enjoys the optimism that blankets innocence. Due to Mickey's ineptitude we believe that at some point in the narrative Ben will become food for the undead, but fortune shines down on the viewers and we are able to fully appreciate their camaraderie.
Music plays such a vital role in The Battery, a lot of it can be heard digeticly through the magical and symbolic headphones. It may appear as an instrument that would hinder survival and Ben even remarks that the music will get them killed, but instead it is the escape they both need. Mickey wears them and connects with his past, while drowning out his present. Ben uses them differently, when he puts them on there is a sense of euphoria as if he connects only with its drug-like escapism. In a scene that transports the viewer out of the film: Ben dons the sacred music and sings along with the caveman baritone of Chris Eaton. He dances about the room and belts out the lyrics; there is a primordial catharsis taking place. Chris Eaton, the lead singer of Rock Plaza Central, grunts and chants a seemingly hopeful incantation about surviving against all odds.
“They can take our fists
and chop them off at the wrist
and we will shake our arms with bloody stumps
and we cannot be defeated.”
Later when we see the title of the song in the credits, there is an apathetic irony that adds more depth to Ben's almost random sequence. The song is titled “Anthem For The Already Defeated,” which Ben would have known since he sings along. So while Ben and Mickey both use music as a form of escape we also see how the two characters vastly differ in their perception of the crumbling world.
The Battery may not be a film ripe for mass consumption, but most early zombie films were not either. With films like Zombieland, Shaun Of The Dead, and Warm Bodies the sub-genre has changed. These zombie-comedies have made it okay for everyone to get into the undead. Along with The Walking Dead they have helped to create a culture where asking, “What would you do when the zombie apocalypse happens?” does not instantly make you a geek. World War Z will be the plateau and possibly the beginning of the sub-genre's demise – at least for this current cycle. Jeremy Gardner's experiment in micro-budget filmmaking pays off and leaves the big budget genre films grasping for an artistic vision that only independent features can embody.
As a sidenote: this review was conceived prior to the release of World War Z. If the blockbuster hopeful is of any worth we will eat our words and retract some of our previous statements.
Stream selected tracks here or each of the following have a link to itunes/bandcamp