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
Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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