Director/Writer: Jeremy Gardner
Starring: Jeremy Gardner, Adam Cronheim, Niels Bolle, Alana O’Brien
The Battery, a 2012 zombie film from writer/director Jeremy Gardner, is a wonderful example of filmmakers doing a lot with a little. The simple but elegant movie examines a post-outbreak world from the perspective of two baseball teammates, Ben (Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim), as they make their way across rural New England. With the exception of one key sequence at the close of the second act, and a few brief exchanges with other people via walkie-talkie, Ben and Mickey are the only living characters we encounter – and even the appearances by the walking dead are few and far between.
A story so tightly focused on only two characters, themselves frequently bored and frustrated, runs the risk of boring and frustrating its audience. But The Battery makes the most of these characters and the tensions that arise between them. Ben is a pragmatist, determined to survive, and convinced that keeping in the open and on the move is their best bet at all times – he is adamant that the two not allow themselves to become trapped anywhere, either physically or psychologically. Mickey is more romantic, fixated on the virtues of a world that he cannot accept has fallen apart, and desperate for any escape from the life the pair now leads. The more Mickey mentally escapes, though, the more Ben must take responsibility for both their survival. Ben’s attempts to bring Mickey back to reality are often as brutal as is his blunt sarcasm.
By the point where we enter the story, Mickey’s only remaining escape is through the music he perpetually plays via headphones, and a lot of the soundtrack is made up of the songs Mickey is listening to. In contrast to Mickey’s need for this musical tie to the past, at one point, when a car stereo plays only static, Ben comments that it’s still “better than the shit that used to be on.” This new world is one to which Ben is well suited; it is Mickey’s hell.
These kids today, with their rock and roll music…
Ben’s world is one of wide-open spaces, and this is where the majority of the first two acts are spent. Ben and Mickey move freely, seen mostly in clear daylight, and the zombies that they do encounter never pose a serious threat to them – so long as Ben remains alert. During this period, very little time is spent actively trying to scare the audience. The focus remains squarely on the increasing conflict between the leads. However, two-thirds of the way through, in a chilling nighttime scene that repeatedly allows pitch darkness to fill the screen, everything shifts. The remainder of the movie is extremely claustrophobic, and the marked change has a powerful impact. Everything that Ben has warned about for the previous hour is now coming true.
A lot of credit must be given not only to Gardner, but also to cinematographer Christian Stella and editors Michael Katzman and Alicia Stella; the team allow much of the movie to play out in long takes, medium and wide shots, with mostly natural and source lighting, lending everything a vérité touch. The shot compositions are graceful, often pretty, but never showy, and they combine with a steady rhythm to keep everything naturalistic and immersive. During key moments when the visuals and cutting do become more stylized, the effect is stark and dramatic.
In its storytelling, its style, and its world-building, The Battery uses the bare minimum to suggest – and achieve – much bigger things.
The Battery can currently be found on Hulu. Thanks to friend and co-worker Tanner Shay for turning me on to this flick!
And, folks, if you like this kind of content, maybe now’s a good time for you to check out our official Kickstarter!
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