Monday, June 10, 2013

The Battery Recasts The Zombie Movie

While World War Z is shooting for catastrophic action horror with its $200 million budget, The Battery shot for cathartic dark comedy with a budget of only $6,000. Somehow, the deliberate and plodding indie flick carries a cultish charm that slowly settles in on a not-so-subtle zombie paradox.

Undead body counts are fun, but so are psychological portraits. In The Battery, writer-director-actor Jeremy Gardner settles on mostly two former baseball players — Ben (Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim) — who find isolation more dangerous than zombies as they wander the New England countryside. And fortunately (or unfortunately), they find more of the former and less the latter.

The Battery is a bit of the odd couple. 

Although Ben and Mickey were teammates, they were never friends nor ran in the same circles. It becomes increasingly apparent that as bad of a match they seem to be in the worst of times, they would have been a bad match in the best of times too. Much like Ben describes it, they are a battery, implying positive and negative charges.

Ben embraces the new world with a nomadic lifestyle in the wilderness; Mickey can only find solitude in attempting to shut the worst of it out with denial and his headphones. Ben immediately kills any shambling zombies they find on sight; Mickey recoils from them with a whimper. Ben wants to keep moving; Mickey wants to settle for a comfortable bed and boarded windows.

If not for his own cowardice and inability to survive, Mickey would break off on his own or stay behind at the next available shelter. Ben, on the other hand, is more pragmatic. He knows Mickey relies on him for survival, but is also hopeful that his new friend-by-fate will eventually pull his own weight. Like it or not, they only have each other.

This isn't a film for jump scare fans. It bears more resemblance to the original George Romero film that defined the modern-day zombies as opposed to any action-packed remakes. Gardner seems much more interested in the psychological acceptance, adoption and emptiness that accompanies being a survivor.

He accomplishes much of it in the atmosphere he creates with drawn shots of the mundane, sharply written dialogue, and the caustic relationship between two people who coexist together out of necessity. They might have spent several months together, but it's clear there isn't a stitch of bonding.

The lack of camaraderie is eventually what invites conflict into the story. After dropping batteries into two walkie talkies taken from Mickey's dead girlfriend's house, the duo pick up some channel banter between other survivors. The survivors seem organized, secure, and structured. They also make it clear newcomers are not welcome. Ben accepts the warning. Mickey cannot leave it alone.

Three people that stand out in this indie success. 

Mickey (Adam Cronheim) and Ben (Gardner)
Florida-native writer-director-actor Jeremy Gardner originally wrote the screenplay based on an audition tape he made for a horror film casting contest. After two more years of rewrites, he asked ten friends to finance the film for $600 each. He does remarkably well in all three roles — writer, director and actor.

As a writer, he is especially sharp at dialogue and atmosphere. Although difficult to gauge how he might perform in other roles, his portrayal of Ben is near perfect as a wilderness drifter. His principal co-star is also mesmerizing to watch as a city-boy turned sad sack survivor.

While New York-born Adam Cronheim has a long resume of short films, voiceovers, and stage, The Battery is his first feature film. He and Gardner are friends in real life and, according to film biographies, Cronheim was responsible for all the licensing and distribution.

Although there are additional cast members and extras worth mentioning, the third primary player was never seen on camera. Photographer Christian Stella jumped in to handle the camerawork, design, color grading, and mixing the score despite not having any experience in cinematography. Everything is sun-soaked, with Stella using the same camera he uses for photography.

The Battery By Jeremy Gardner Charges 8.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The entire film was shot in 16 days and, with the exception of the zombies, the entire cast consisted of seven players (unless you count a worm that Gardner granted a film credit). The score has several gems too. The only thing this movie "isn't" is scary. But it was never intended to be anyway. It's a zombie movie with brains. No, really.

The Battery never panders to come across like a big budget picture nor does it ever descend into the schlock of amateur found footage films. Instead, everything about the film hits an indie sweet spot without ever becoming pretentious, predictable,or boring. If The Battery finds cerebral middle ground fans who have grown weary of special effects and thrill rides, it could easily become a cult classic.

The Battery is currently available to rent or purchase via iTunes. The Battery can also be streamed from Amazon. The film is currently available to rent in other formats too. Links will be added to retailers when it is eventually released on disc formats too. We look forward to more from all parties.
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