Fantasia 2013 Review: THE BATTERY Bravely Sidesteps The Usual Zombie Routine
Companionship and camaraderie are at the heart of Jeremy Gardner's micro-indie Zom-Dram, The Battery. What? You say. Another filmmaker making a buddy/zombie movie with no money and the usual tropes and jokes? Not so with this one, which spends its time far more in the silent spaces of the zombie apocalypse. A character gets drunk and sings a song in an empty house as a coping mechanism for this silence. It's not the zombies, but the lack of a purpose that might be the real killer. While there is certainly a structured narrative here, it is the character beats and 'hanging out' aspects' of the film that drive it.
The film offers its pleasures in the lead characters of Ben and Mickey, two scavenger-survivors wandering around the leafy New England countryside, bickering like an old married couple. Their pre-apocalypse relationship was non-existent outside of playing on the same baseball team together as pitcher and catcher - I mean this un-metaphorically, it's assuredly not that kind of film. Anyhoo, when not throwing change-ups to Ben, Mickey retreats into his headphones with old CDs found at his girlfriends house. Ben is far more aggressive not only scolding Mickey for tuning out with music (and the film boasts a wonderful soundtrack) but also for living in the past. He insists they move forward like sharks, eating and killing if necessary, but not over-thinking the larger issues. They sing the "Show Me The Way to Go Home" song in an echo of semi-contented mail companionship from Spielberg's Jaws. A big old Volvo station wagon is acquired to carry their gear, with the added bonus of a bed in the back. They use the pillows and sheets from the same ex-girlfriend. Later this will become a hellish domestic prison for the film's third act.
Like the seemingly inexhaustible horde of Zombie films of the past dozen or so years, The Battery takes the stance that we are far worse to ourselves than the threat of the zombies. Other people, places, possibly sanctuaries encountered on the road threaten to end their relationship. This is the main conflict. While Ben and Mickey argue and make fun of each others failings, this brings them closer, cementing their platonic pal-dom. Ben at first seems the duller one. He leaves a sign on the dashboard 'Gone Fishing. Don't Die.' when Mickey is taking a nap (and he really is gone fishing.) With all the brain dead screenplays out there for films large and small, who focus too often on splatter or genre navel gazing, it is refreshing to find a film that made me really care for these two slackers. When he does decide to throw a movie reference or three, Gardner quotes Tremors and The Great Escape (along with the above mentioned Jaws) in a charming spiritual trifecta. The green, wet and handsome East Coast cinematography of The Battery, with its comfortable, laid-back attitude (and Volvo) makes it kind of an anti-Bellflower.
While not a film that changes the direction of a genre very much in need of one, The Battery is a very welcome case for what can be done with capable screenwriting. It is less a film about the logistics and trials in evading danger or getting to an island safe-haven, and more about how you and your partner are going to argue, and work things out, when one of you cannot find the car keys.
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