Directed by Jeremy Gardner
Distributed by Scream Factory
I’m not certain how we got to this point. As far as the last year or so goes (with few exceptions), the very best horror films this reviewer has seen have all premiered on Blu-ray/DVD or by way of On Demand viewing – most never seeing a theatre until after their digital debut, if ever at all. Meanwhile, it seems rare these days that a silver screen will ever be graced by a film from our favorite genre that isn’t some slickly made, somewhat competent but otherwise soulless drivel aimed squarely at an audience that will likely spend more time staring at their cell phones than their movie of choice.
And y’know what? That’s fine. The best of the genre will still work wonders on a smaller screen – so long as the lights in your living room are turned down and the television’s volume is turned way up. But still, it’s a shame that so many great horror flicks will never become the communal experience that most (all?) were intended to be: loads of strangers gathered together in a dark auditorium – jumping with fright, laughing with relief, and just enjoying the same terrifying ride alongside fellow fans.
For example – take The Battery, a micro-budgeted zombie tale that’s far more enthralling and entertaining than any megabudgeted eye-roller that might gobble up our precious cash (and even more precious time) at the multiplexes. Did it enjoy a large nationwide release in every major theatre chain? Were mainstream audiences given the opportunity to support and enjoy a smart, fun, and ultimately unnerving horror movie? The answer is “no” of course, and that’s a damn shame – because The Battery is one of the best movies you’ll see all year.
With $6,000 and a load of hard work, writer/director/producer/actor/champion beard-grower Jeremy Gardner has delivered one of the most fun and fascinating indie zombie flicks this reviewer has seen in a very long while. Not content to rehash the sociopolitical content of Romero, the (admittedly often involving) melodrama of TV’s “The Walking Dead,” or the splatterpunk aesthetic embraced by loads of backyard gut-slingers, Gardner has fashioned his post-zombie apocalypse tale to act as a character-driven drama, set against a walker-filled backdrop and delivered in an episodic yet engrossing fashion, featuring two of the more likeable and realistic protagonists this subgenre has seen.
The film follows Ben (Gardner) and Mickey (Cronheim), two ex-baseball players traveling throughout a desolate New England, scrounging about for food and equipment while dodging the occasional undead flesh-eater. The macho and gregarious Ben and the relatively quiet and sensitive Mickey couldn’t be any more different from each other, which quite often puts them at odds. While Mickey would prefer to settle down and live as close to a normal existence as possible in an honest-to-goodness homestead, Ben is content to continually stay on the move, whether it be on foot or in the battered jalopy they run across in the film’s first act. When the two pick up a radio transmission from a group of scavengers who seem to be living in a safe haven of sorts called “The Orchard,” Mickey believes he’s found his chance to find a permanent home. However, the revelation regarding the true nature of “The Orchard” and its inhabitants will force Ben and Mickey into a situation which leads to one of the most unrelentingly tense and nerve-fraying final acts any zombie movie ever had.
Even though the film is virtually plotless for large portions of its running time, it never meanders or bores – and that’s chiefly due to the writing, craft of filmmaking, and the solid performances from the leads. Gardner and Cronheim are both great in their roles, seeming like old friends while keeping the tension between them palpable and nearly constant throughout. The photography is naturalistic and often gorgeous, and Gardner’s direction keeps the movie intermittently entertaining and intense, even when little is happening to advance the film’s story. Special mention must also go to the film’s soundtrack, which features several indie songs that fit the film’s mood perfectly.
The horror heroes at Scream Factory have brought The Battery to Blu with a perfectly solid image, keeping the film’s Canon 5D-shot picture looking mostly sharp throughout while boasting strong colors, perfectly reproducing the film’s beautiful photography. There is also the choice between 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, and either is perfectly acceptable – offering clear dialogue along with punchy effects and music. All in all, a great presentation.
The bonus features may seem slim at first glance, especially when compared to some of Scream’s previous supplements-laden releases, but wow, is it a treasure trove when you look closer. In addition to a fun and informative commentary from Gardner, Cronheim, and DP Christian Stella, the extras include: eleven minutes of outtakes, featuring loads of flubs and goofing around on set; eleven minutes of Rock Plaza Central (a band which contributed to the film’s soundtrack) rehearsing over the course of a weekend in preparation for a live show; the film’s quote-heavy trailer; and a handful of trailers for some of Scream Factory’s more recently produced acquisitions.
And then, oh but then, the crown jewel of this Blu: a ninety-minute making-of doc titled Tools of Ignorance. This feature-length behind-the-scenes look at the making of The Battery is one of the best nuts-and-bolts, warts-‘n-all, behind-the-curtain views of an indie flick’s production that I’ve ever seen. This feature takes us through every aspect of the film’s making, conception to release, and shows in great detail the hard work, humor, heartache, arguments, and camaraderie that helped make this movie a reality. This is an outstanding feature which should stand alongside the Robert Rodriguez tome “Rebel Without a Crew” as one of the very best inspirations for aspiring indie filmmakers to get off their asses and just go make something. This feature alone is worth the price of the disc.
Ultimately, folks, zombie flicks are a dime a dozen these days (often looking like they may not have cost much more than a dime to make in most cases). Whether they’re Romero ripoffs or attempts to ride the coattails of a current television phenomenon, there seems to be little new or interesting left to do with one of our favorite cinematic boogeymen. But by focusing on his relatable characters and telling a story of survival that we haven’t quite seen before, Jeremy Gardner has given the subgenre the wake-up call it needs: It doesn’t matter how old or well-worn the tropes are, so long as you care about the story you’re telling, and so long as you can make others care as well.
While it’s a shame that this film never enjoyed a wide release, at least you now have the opportunity to view The Battery in your own personal home theatre. If you’re tired of the insipid, calculated, Hollywood “horror” flicks that haunt auditorium after auditorium each year, do yourself a favor and pick this flick up ASAP.
- Audio Commentary with Writer, Director, and Actor Jeremy Gardner; Producer and Actor Adam Cronheim; and Director of Photography Christian Stella
- Tools of Ignorance: The Making of The Battery
- Rock Plaza Central at the Parlor