Director: Jeremy Gardner
Writer: Jeremy Gardner
Stars: Jeremy Gardner, Adam Cronheim, Niels Bolle
I’m sure many will disagree with me, but I think the most important quality in a film critic is at least having past experience in making a movie. If you can’t make one, then the second best criteria would be to understand just how hard it is to get one made. Reason being, if you’re about to analyze somebody’s art, try to understand how difficult that process was to make that piece of art.
Don’t get me wrong, there are people making movies that should never be allowed to touch a camera again. Within the cut throat industry, lurks many who believe they are God’s gift to cinema, including a handful within the indie community. I’ve had people tell me they just made the best film ever, and when you try to offer criticism, they look at you as if you’ve missed the second coming of Citizen Kane.
Then there is the driven indie crowd with bad luck on their side. I’ve seen many low-budget features where you can tell everyone in the production felt very passionately about what they were creating, but somewhere along the way things just didn’t sync out. It’s truly heartbreaking to witness in a competitive game like the movie business. So, when I see a movie which lacks arrogance and truly overcomes all the obstacles of low-budget hell, it makes me happier than an A.D.D. kid at butterfly camp. Seriously though, I absolutely love to see people in the indie community get a win.
This brings me to the topic at hand, which is the indie-horror title The Battery. The film, which was directed and written by Jeremy Gardner, was made for $6,000 on a two-week production schedule. As their website says, most of the time these guys were working with a crew of only six people through most of the shoot, which any filmmaker can tell you is a pain in the ass. What these guys were able to pull off with little resources is absolutely outstanding. It’s hard for me to nitpick the complaints I have with the movie, because the only way to correct it would involve handing these guys a bigger budget, which they obviously didn’t have.
The film centers on Mickey and Ben, who are former baseball players embarking on a journey through the great New England area. The world around them has long died and all that is left is the walking dead, which is killing off what’s left. I know what you’re thinking. Not another zombie movie, right? I assure you this isn’t a zombie film at all. The Battery is a psychological study about pressure and loneliness, which just happens to have a few zombies in it.
Mickey and Ben have been stuck with each other for quite some time. It is somewhat implied from the start that these guys were in a desperate situation involving being trapped in a house for several months before we meet them. So, by the time the film begins, they’re already tired of seeing each other’s faces every day. Not to mention their personalities are vastly different for working together. Ben is a bearded wild man, and ready to do whatever it takes to survive a situation. Mickey, on the other hand, still seems out of touch and not ready to kill. Most of the time, Mickey is escaping the harsh world by putting on headphones, and drowning out the world in music.
The tone of the film brought back memories of reading Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. In that novel, you truly see the dynamic toll isolation has on an individual overtime. Even in that story, a female vampire uses her body to taunt the main character, because he hasn’t been with a woman for so long. It’s not the same, but there is a similarly executed scenario where one of the guys finds a female zombie attractive. The scene is quite hilarious, but you can totally sympathize with the poor bastard when you’ve been stuck with a crazy bearded guy for months, and seen zero women.
Just like I Am Legend, the story hinges on the emotional weight of nostalgia. I’m not sure if it was intended to be humorous, but there is a moment where Mickey and Ben start brushing their teeth with toothbrushes that they find at an old girlfriend’s house. It keeps going on longer than you would expect but it’s hilarious because their faces have such a sense of nostalgia while brushing. Subtle moments like this add so much value to the writing of this movie.
My absolute favorite part about The Battery is the soundtrack decisions in the film. The musical selections play like an ultimate playlist a friend gave you. Gardner incorporates the resources of small musical acts and turns them into a third character in the story. For example, one of the guys, starts dancing all by himself to a song called Anthem for the Already Defeated, which arguably is just as entertaining as Uma Thurman’s solo number in Pulp Fiction. I know I’d go unquestionably nuts if I didn’t have music in my life, and the zombie apocalypse hasn’t happened yet. That said, if it were to happen, behind food, water, and ammo, my music and DVD collection would be a treasure. So, I can completely relate to the need to escape inside headphones. The music is so excellent, I immediately checked the web to seek out where I could find the music, once the movie ended.
I do have minor criticisms, but no major ones. Like I said, all the criticisms I do have would incorporate giving these guys more money to work with. For example, some of the acting is shaky in areas, but a bigger budget could provide this crew talent outside of their reach. The zombie effects were excellent for the budget, but could easily be improved giving better expenses. So many small things such as this seem ludicrous to even mention because of what these guys achieved with so little. The Battery proves that a movie can be just as engrossing on a shoe-string budget, as a multi-million dollar blockbuster.
One last thing I want to mention before I wrap this up. This film has an insanely creative finale that I did not see coming at all. I have to give Gardner props because the idea is extremely ballsy and unnerving as hell. Once the ending began, I started questioning whether the film was going to continue in that direction, and thought, “No way that would happen.” Much to my surprise, it did, and it was a brilliant decision. After the movie ended, I tried sleeping and stayed up for at least another hour just thinking how awful that situation would be if I were in their shoes. I’m not even sure if a zombie film has ever explored such circumstances for characters, and for that alone The Battery scores huge points from me.
Overall, The Battery succeeds as a metaphor for the human condition. It raises questions about how much pressure someone can burden before time drains all endurance. How long are you willing to suffer just to survive ten more minutes? What conditions are you prepared to handle to overcome adversity? The scariest aspect for any human in the face of survival is uncertainty, and Gardner’s direction exhibits this notion. Not since Richard Matheson’s novelization of I Am Legend have I been so frustratingly pleased with a finale. A message to Hollywood: Give these guys a bigger budget and let’s see what they do next.