“The Battery” (2012)

by A.J. Hakari

"The Battery" poster

 

The zombie genre is a deceptively simple one. Its demands are few, and movies can be crafted with budgets great and small, but the line separating a truly grueling experience from a boringly-plotted slog of the living dead is extraordinarily thin. Just because a filmmaker doesn’t need to do much, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try hard; that so few take this philosophy to heart is why we often end up with a plethora of independent productions that resemble glorified demo reels more than complete narratives. 2012’s micro-budgeted chiller The Battery frequently threatens to cross this line, to cease caring about its characters and to mistake scenes of endless bickering as a means to maintain tension. Yet the picture never makes that jump, always keeping the audience on an uneasy edge that comes to be reflected in the story itself. The Battery tests us as often as it does its own protagonists, and for our troubles, it presents a more stirring and novel take than we’re used to on a genre many viewers wish would stay buried already.

Our tale begins some time after an undead apocalypse has done a doozy on America’s populace. How it began and whether or not the damage has gone global is unclear, but what is known is that most folks have either been killed by those shuffling ghouls or joined their ranks. Fortunately, baseball players Ben (Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim) have managed to survive by sticking to the woods and back roads…though how they’ve gotten this far without murdering each other is another story. The two men share very different views on how to live life after the zombie armageddon; while Ben wants to stay on the go and live off of whatever he can scavenge or hunt, Mickey refuses to acknowledge the situation, blocking out the carnage by cranking up his headphones and wishing to settle down in a real house again. But the battling buddies are put under further strain when they pick up a radio signal from what sounds like a group of survivors, who warn them not to even try to find them. Obsessed with having a normal life again, Mickey attempts to get back in contact with the group, despite Ben’s warnings that doing so might end up getting them killed…either at the hands of the zombie hordes or their fellow man.

Made for a reported six thousand bucks, The Battery wears its independent roots on its sleeve. The cast is tiny, the action is minimal, and the undead themselves are sparsely used. For the vast majority of its 100 minutes, this is Ben and Mickey’s show, following them as they get drunk, forage for canned food, and play some catch whenever they aren’t in danger of being relieved of their innards. It’s a decision that will make or break the film for a lot of people, for while focusing on conflict and how survivors deal with the veritable end of the world in their own ways is par for the course in zombie flicks, rarely is so much screen time dedicated to so few characters. Ben and Mickey’s sparring can get repetitive, and neither feels entirely sympathetic, but that’s also kind of the point. The Battery is what happens when you place two guys who probably didn’t care that much for each other in the first place into a situation where, in spite of their fighting, they don’t really have the option to split up. They’re both extremely stubborn and set in their ways, and you can easily understand why they act how they do — just as it’s obvious why each is driven up the wall by the other’s behavior. Their iffy alliance lends the movie an element of danger whenever the undead aren’t the immediate threat; you’re always wondering when each guy will reach his breaking point, and in scenes such as when Ben locks Mickey in a room with a zombie to force him to fend for himself, you’re as on your toes as the story intends.

That said, prepare for The Battery‘s intentionally languid pacing to push your patience. Many of its scenes have as much of a shot at being interpreted as quietly tense or observational as they have at being seen as obvious padding. The movie lasts an hour and forty minutes, and quite frankly, it didn’t need to; it seems as though the many montages of Ben and Mickey putzing around the wilderness only last as long as they do so that whatever song the soundtrack has cued up can finish playing in full. The climax especially has a knack for eliciting a wide range of reactions, as we watch zombies trap the guys in their car for days on end with a mixture of eye-rolling restlessness and genuine, edge-of-your-seat concern. But in the end, The Battery clicks more often than not, courtesy of both the deliberate storytelling and actors who knew precisely how to play their parts. Garnder also wrote and directed the feature, and as Ben, he fulfills an alpha male type of role with a bleak perspective on what’s happened to his world without coming across as a grating, overgrown frat boy. Cronheim is also top notch as Mickey, portraying him as enough of a whiner so as not to drown out the inherent sadness of the character. All he wants is some stability in what’s left of his life, and even darkly funny scenes like when Mickey makes an odd decision upon being cornered by a female zombie have a poignant edge because of Cronheim’s effective performance.

Though The Battery does contain the blood and gore that some fans desire from the zombie genre, they may find that the movie doesn’t dwell on it enough to carry them through its slower patches. The picture does needle viewers with its leisurely pace, but it’s a rather clever way of getting us acquainted with the mindset of its characters, asking you to empathize with them despite their flaws just as it requests that they do the same for one another. While it may not be for everyone, The Battery is a gripping little ditty that proves to be pretty deft in using what scant resources are at its disposal.

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