Written & Directed by Jeremy Gardner
Official Site: http://ohannahfilms.tumblr.com/
I'm fond of lamenting that if I never had to watch another low budget zombie movie for this site again, that day could not arrive too soon. When you do your best to focus on independent films, a hazard of the trade is the seemingly never ending deluge of tossed together shaky cam films. There will always be someone ply buddies with a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon if they'll spend a hot summer's day shambling around the backyard covered on karo syrup and corpse paint. To borrow a phrase from David Lowery, the world needs another George Romero like I need a hole in the head.
Yet every once in a while a film comes our way that makes the slog worth it all. Filmed for less than the cost of a ten year old Subaru Forrester equipped with a faulty cassette deck, The Battery lays waste to films with twenty or more times the budget at its disposal.
The Battery thrusts the viewer into the end of the world with little fanfare. Much like David Carradine in Kung Fu, Ben (Jeremy Gardner, pulling triple duty) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim) wander the earth, sticking to the backroads and living off the land and foraged canned goods left behind at the isolated homes they find along the way. The former minor league ballplayers (the title is baseball jargon for the relationship of a pitcher and catcher) have no plan in place except to survive one more day. Gardner makes economic use of the opening sequences to establish both his world and the personality differences between his two leads. From that jumping point The Battery delves deep into what makes Mickey and Ben tick, thoroughly dissecting them both in a way that leaves the viewer vested in their outcome. The zombie threat is pushed into the background, with the undead not posing much threat to the harrowing last act. Gardener has far more interest exploring the dynamics of his two characters, and for most of The Battery's runtime, any number of doomsday scenarios that paired his duo up would have served.
The two have differing opinions on what needs to be done to survive. He keeps Mickey on the move, never stopping for even a night's comfort under the roofs of one of the homes the two stumble across. You get the feeling that there's a part of Ben that secretly loves the end of the world has allowed him to unleash his inner caveman. While his friend clings to romantic notions of this all being just a phase, Ben takes a realistic look at the longview, and decides that the world is pretty much fucked, so it's best to keep moving lest you get dragged down with it. This is a good idea in theory, but in practice, Ben's snarky nature and tendency to play the role of Dad to Mickey doesn't endear him to his travel partner. Ben needles Mickey in an attempt to toughen him up but instead his effortsdrive a wedge between them and wear his travel mate down.
Cronheim's Mickey is a fascinating study in human frailty. He clings to vestiges and vanities of a world that's gone and will never return. A pair of oversized headphones act as his security blanket, literally enveloping him and drowning out the world around him. Despite the heaps of evidence to the contrary he can't accept that this is the world he lives in now. It's too empty an existence for him to bear. Yo keep waiting for him to make a mistake-be it negligence or saying the wrong thing to the wrong person-that's going to get the two of them killed.
The Battery explores the danger of interjecting a glimmer of hope in a hopeless situation. At a critical moment Ben and Mickey intercept a call on their walkie talkies. After months of scavenging with only each others company to keep there's the dangled carrot of community. There's food, structure, electricity and even the promise of movie nights (Tremors!). Despite being told in no uncertain terms to bugger off by the voice on the other end of the line, Mickey can't let it go. Ben wants to forget the call and press on but Mickey can't let the thought go. While building an imaginary fantasy about life on this compound, he starts cracking at a rapid rate, growing more petulant and careless. The slightest glimmer of normalcy forces Mickey to examine the hell the world has turned into. He can't stomach an endless stretch of days sleeping on rooftops and living off pillaged canned goods any longer when the illusion of the world left behind is within reach. These thoughts destroy him emotionally.
Gardner's attention to small details make The Battery a joy to watch. Ben's clothes hang a size too large on him serving as a subtle reminder that the character's are living off whatever they can dig up, and have been doing so for a long time. When the two find themselves under siege by a horde and trapped within a station wagon, they make it a point to conserve every resource at their disposal, including draining the water from canned tuna in their empty gallon jugs. Mickey's fanatical adherence to dousing himself with hair product every day, or holding on to winning lottery tickets provide further details into his inability to cope with the new reality. These small details don't cost anything but effort and add an extra layer of depth and understanding to The Battery. You see it too often in indie films where directors justify narrative laziness by blaming it on a lack of funds. The Battery is a fine example of how ambition and dollars don't always go hand in hand. This is the first must-see zombie film in a hell of a long while. When you see something this good with this little money behind it, it lowers your tolerance for less efforts considerably. Seek this film out.
The Battery plays March 16th in the Somerville Theater Microcinema as part of All Things Horror's monthly film series.