Toronto After Dark 2013: The Battery Review
Partially the product of circumstance, The Battery is a low-budget zombie film with nearly no zombies, blood, guts, or action. It’s a slow, seething film that focuses on human interaction at the end of the world, bringing it back to the social and cultural commentary instigated by George A. Romero’s work. Taking the festival circuit by storm, this predominantly two-man show with a killer soundtrack is worth all the praise it’s receiving.
The film centers around Ben (writer/director Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim), now former baseball players that were part of a Battery. Having survived the zombie apocalypse, they are now making their way through the woods and rural areas of desolate New England to stay safe from the undead. With no goal in mind other than staying mobile and safe, their personalities begin to clash. They represent two parts of the human condition: the desire for creature comforts, and the will to survive. Mickey longs for the comfort of a bed, the stability of a home, and the normality of daily life. Ben desires nothing more than to keep moving, living off the land and whatever they can scavenge from the remnants of society.
The Battery has no action. Devoid of blood, guts, and jump scares, it’s doing the complete opposite of what contemporary zombie film and television has accomplished. Due mostly to budgetary constraints (the film was reportedly made for a meagre $6,000) the few zombie kills that do happen do so off screen, and the film winds up predominantly focusing on dialogue and character development. Make no mistake, these are not criticisms. It is for these very reasons that The Battery is steadily establishing itself as not only an indie darling, but also one of the best zombie films in years.
Instead of focusing on blood, guts, and violence, they pull it back to social commentary. Like the early work of Romero, the genesis of the zombie film was less about the terror of the zombies themselves. Focusing on the human condition, our propensity for horrendous behaviour, and the acknowledgement of social ills, it’s more thought provoking than jump inducing.
The film is rife with ballsy cinematographic choices. There’s a minute and a half long take of our protagonists brushing their teeth, and a nearly nine minute long take waiting in their Volvo. Even though it may have been an attempt to see what they could get away with, it works brilliantly. The fact that they can take a mundane activity such as brushing ones teeth and turn it into a pertinent long take that emphasizes the lingering presence of humanity in a hopeless scenario is a testament to Gardner’s abilities as a film maker.
The film has a stellar and addictive soundtrack, full of independent musicians including Gardner’s favourite, and Toronto’s own, Rock Plaza Central. I challenge you to stop listening to their “Anthem for the Already Defeated” after one repeat. Staying away from a traditional score, he places the music within the film’s diegesis. As Mickey listens to his Discman, headphones fused to his head throughout the film, his music rings out along with dialogue and the sounds of the trees.
With solid performances from both Gardner and Cronheim, and a well executed script on a budget, The Battery is a huge success. It’s flaws are few and far between. So much so they’re virtually undetectable. Perhaps it could shave off ten minutes from its run time, but it stands strong even at a slightly lengthy pace.