Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
July 2013

The Battery

Road trip! (with zombies)

As resourceful as its main character, 'The Battery' finds new entries into the zombie apocalypse subgenre

The Battery
O. Hannah Films
Director: Jeremy Gardner
Screenplay: Jeremy Gardner
Starring: Jeremy Gardner, Adam Cronheim, Alana O'Brien, Larry Fessenden and Niels Bolle
Not rated / 1 hour, 41 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)

Now here is a movie that knows how to set the stage for its audience. In one simple, effective opening scene, writer/director Jeremy Gardner establishes all we really need to know about The Battery. The atmosphere, the tone, the humor - all encapsulated in a single unbroken take to begin the film.

A young guy, probably in his mid-to-late 20s, sits on the front porch of a modest two-story house, positioned in the center of the frame. He's wearing a bright yellow T-shirt. The front door sits cracked open behind him. He casually puts on his headphones, turns on his music, and relaxes on the steps. He just sits there, calm as can be. The scene is brightly lit, serene. After several moments, the serenity is broken when a couple of shots ring out, and another guy - bearded, frumpy - bursts out of the house firing a gun. The two make a break for it. Cue the opening credits.

There isn't much concrete information presented in this scene. We still know almost nothing in the way of specifics. We know a little about the characters - it's relevant that the bearded one is in the house with the gun, while the other one is out on the porch, waiting around - but we have no idea what it is they're shooting at. But it doesn't matter. Gardner has firmly laid the atmospheric groundwork - the warm color temperature, the offbeat pacing - for what we will soon discover is a hybrid road trip/buddy comedy/zombie movie.

The zombies, which apparently began wreaking havoc a few months before the film begins, initially don't seem to be nearly as much of a threat as the malaise that has set in for former ballplayers Ben (Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim) after months of scavenging and moving from place to place. At least, for Mickey that seems to be the case. He's more worried about boredom and discomfort than getting attacked by a zombie. Which kind of makes sense, given that it's Ben who does all the zombie-killing, inoculating his friend from ever having to get his hands dirty.

Ben and Mickey's journey actually plays out like a pretty awesome on-the-road camping trip whose only drawback is that every now and then they have to kill a zombie or two (and pretty easily, I might add). The bigger problem, though, is it's a road trip that will presumably go on forever. It's not like zombies are going to stop walking the earth all of a sudden. Ben has adjusted to this reality with remarkable ease; he's a survivor. Mickey, on the other hand, still clings to the thought of suburban comfort. We might stop to wonder what they might have been like during their playing days. After all, ballplayers are constantly on the road, spending days and weeks at a time in unfamiliar towns. Were Ben and Mickey the same way back then? Or has the zombie apocalypse drastically altered their personalities and expectations? Have their survival instincts simply gone in opposite directions?

The two spend their evenings in the wilderness - playing catch, trying to fish, listening to music - but survive by ransacking deserted homes and hotel rooms during the day, siphoning gas from abandoned cars, picking up as many non-perishables as they can find.

What emerges is something of a battle of domestication. Ben embraces life on the road, loves being ungoverned and untamed, is content to do the hunting, gathering and zombie killing. Mickey just wants to settle down - wants a home, a comfortable bed to sleep in, a real toilet to sit down on.

It makes for a terrific dynamic between the two, and inevitably leads to an ideological conflict when Mickey accidentally overhears a conversation between members of a nearby group of survivors on his walkie-talkie. He wants to go find them and join them; Ben insists it's a bad idea. Needless to say, the initial argument isn't the end of it.

There is certainly a bleak streak running through The Battery, but it's balanced by a sense of levity that helps elevate key sequences - which could otherwise have played like pretty generic suspense - into wonderfully absurd moments. As a filmmaker, Gardner takes advantage of his modest budget by using its limitations to discover tension and suspense in strange ways and from an entirely unexpected places.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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