Director: Jeremy Gardner
Writer: Jeremy Gardner
Producer: Jeremy Gardner, Douglas A. Plomitallo, Adam Cronheim, Christian Stella
Stars: Jeremy Gardner, Adam Cronheim, Alana O’Brien, Niels Bolle
Two former baseball players rely on each other to survive after the living dead overrun America.
Jeremy Gardner has tapped into a different vein of zombie cinema. Although Gardner writes, directs, and co-stars in his undead-themed film, his is not a vanity piece. “The Battery” takes place in an America where post-apocalyptic life is as grim, epic, and dire as the worlds depicted in the fiction of George A. Romero or Robert Kirkman. But “The Battery” brings an arthouse indie vibe to its smaller and more focused slice of life drama about coping after The End.
For those unversed in baseball terminology, “the battery” refers to a combination of pitcher and catcher. Ben and Mickey were ballplayers on the same team before the outbreak. With Ben in the starting lineup and Mickey in the bullpen waiting for a relief opportunity, the two former athletes were not well acquainted with each other. That changed when corpses started walking the earth. Somewhere in the madness, Ben and Mickey became a battery outside of the ballpark and circumstances made them inseparable ever since.
Devoid of any master plan to build a fortified base or to search for a cure, Ben and Mickey look simply for safety. Mickey wants to sleep in a bed instead of a station wagon. Ben wants his buddy to indulge him in a regular game of catch. While the Woodbury militia storms prison walls and while Tom Savini’s biker gang lays siege to Monroeville Mall, this is how the Average Joes occupy their days during an undead apocalypse.
Anyone who has ever driven across the United States or has a sense of the country’s vast expanses knows how much wide-open land exists, even in New England. Danger is ever present in the Connecticut wilds traversed by the intrepid duo, but they are not constantly surrounded by hordes of flesh-eating monsters in the middle of the wilderness. This is one way that “The Battery” shows a realistic everyman take on how the end of the world might actually go down.
“The Battery” asks zombie fans for their patience, because it is not a film about combating hordes of reanimated corpses or plotting complexities to usurp societal power balances. It is a film about what happens in between those moments. Ben and Mickey struggle to hold onto shreds of the lives they once knew in ways not usually depicted in the genre. Mickey tries his luck at lotto scratchers. They are free at any available convenience store, after all. He even pockets a winner. There is probably small comfort in the belief that maybe there will be an opportunity to redeem it someday.
Mickey also convinces Ben to take a detour to an ex-girlfriend’s place. Once there, Mickey pockets a pair of panties and a bottle of perfume for those times when he wants to reminisce. Ben later catches Mickey finding sexual release in a more unusual way in a world without available women. These are the everyday human situations that heavy density zombie pieces do not have time for. “The Battery” is more intimate and personal.
If assembling an all-star team of undead uprising survivors, Ben would be a first round draft pick alongside Rick Grimes and Ken Foree. Not for badassery or even for reliability, but because it would be refreshing to have someone around with his not-so-dour temperament. Ben takes the catastrophe at face value, with both fearless resolve and good humor.
“The Battery” is not a comedy, but it delivers laughs despite taking its fiction seriously. When Ben and Mickey make contact with other humans, the film’s tone reminds us that this is not a “buddy movie” romp. As in the best zombie films, the greatest threat to society is man, not monster. Lazy days taking batting practice with apples in an orchard make way for choices that must be made with quick wits and a bullet. The mood can be as stark as the setting.
Gardner frames the majority of shots wide for long takes, giving the scenes room to breathe and dictate their own pace. This works well for most of the film, although a deliberately long scene in the final reel could have used a tune-up. The last act is still satisfying, but a more judicious tightening of the runtime would have ratcheted up the tension instead of staying in step with the overall leisurely stride of the film.
“The Battery” is fresh and has a genuine message to deliver with its unique take on the zombie genre. There is a warming up period to the feel, but endearing characters and a standout performance from Gardner as Ben reward the investment. For a low budget production, achieving this much emotion with such a high quality look is an astonishing accomplishment. In the face of apocalyptic disaster, the heart of “The Battery” is a story that says it is not enough to just simply survive. The true goal is remembering how to live.
Review Score: 85