Just when you think that new life can’t be breathed into low budget zombie movies, there comes along something like The Battery. At a time when the undead have completely taken over pop-culture, it’s hard to stand out from the lurching, moaning pack. The Walking Dead has been a success mainly down to a consistent focus on characterisation, and that’s a point The Battery shares in common. Actor, writer, producer and director Jeremy Gardner doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel with this film, instead purely focusing on achieving what can be achieved on a teeny budget, and giving a solid character based drama.
Ben (Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim) are a pair of former baseball players, now surviving the zombie apocalypse in a nomadic, wandering existence. Not exactly friends before, the two have nevertheless found a way to get along and cope with having each other as their only company. There are still strains between them though threatening to grow and push them apart. Then one day, while trying out a new pair of radios, they suddenly hear another voice over the airwaves (Alana O’Brien)…
The Battery works less as a typical horror movie but more going for an “odd couple” drama vibe. Recognising that the ArmaDeaddon has become a setting rather than a story at this point, the film skips needless exposition knowing full well what the audience knows. The focus is entirely on the two leads and their relationship to each other. Ben is the more proactive of the two, doing a lot of the dirty work including all the de-animation duties. Mickey though is often trying to distance himself from what’s going on, including forever gathering batteries to use in his CD player. The story focuses a lot on their issues, from that of friendship and trust, to, in one gloriously tasteless moment, their (well, Mickey’s) sexual frustrations. The two actors carry everything, and both Gardner and Cronheim pull it off with the right sort of friendly relationship and chemistry, built through some good-natured humour.
But the film does handle it’s horror credentials well in the end and not just from the zombies themselves. There’s an ongoing subplot that alludes to people doing some very dark things elsewhere in this world. It not only gets the imagination going but it also makes the world seem larger than the small production, adding the idea that this is just one story in a very big setting. Also, Ben isn’t innocent of a highly ruthless streak himself, something that Mickey calls him out on, and occasionally ends up on the receiving end of. But the real ingenuity is in the ending, the climactic sequence is such a simple idea, but executed to full effect. It fits the budget, adds a real aspect of danger and claustrophobia, and pushes both characters right to their limits. It ends in a bittersweet way that a story like this could only end.
With The Battery, Jeremy Gardner proves himself a talent to look out for. With smart writing, budget balancing, and good uses of long takes, this is a great show for his directing skills. He’s not a bad actor either, with him and Adam Cronheim being very believable leads. Even if you are an avid zombie fan who thinks they’ve seen it all, The Battery is worth seeking out. All the best zombie movies are almost never about the zombies, they’re about actual characters, and The Battery is a fine example.