Ben and Mickey are two ex-baseball players drifting through the New England forests in an attempt to avoid the zombie hoards now populating towns and cities. Ben is happy to embrace this new life and sees no sense in remaining in one place for too long, while Mickey longs for a return to normality and the creature comforts that come with this. When they hear a radio transmission from a seemingly secure and safe community, despite being warned that they are not welcome, Mickey becomes increasingly desperate to find the source and the two are forced to confront both the humans and the undead that they have avoided for so long.
Written and directed by Jeremy Gardner and shot over two weeks for $6000, using a Canon digital SLR camera and a crew of six people, The Battery succeeds where so many low budget films fail, by remembering to keep things small. Although a zombie apocalypse forms the backbone of the story, the real action takes place as we follow the relationship between the two lead characters, played by Gardner and Adam Cronheim. This forces the viewer to remain tightly focused on Ben and Mickey’s dialogue and interactions and as we learn more about their characters and how a plague of the undead has changed their personalities and their outlook on life, we also feel the increasing claustrophobia and boredom that their daily routine brings. Two lovely examples of how they find release from this routine can be found in the toothpaste scene and the ‘hot zombie’ scene, but to go into any more depth here would spoil the enjoyment for other viewers. Suffice to say it’s unlikely you’ve seen anything similar in any previous zombie flick.
The slowly emerging differences between Ben and Mickey are handled beautifully. Mickey’s reluctance to kill a zombie contrasts nicely with Ben keeping a score of his kills and Mickey’s desire to ignore the world around them, disappear behind the music in his headphones and allow Ben to keep them safe, is flipped on its head when Ben decides that Mickey needs to start taking more responsibility for his own life. Forcing Mickey to confront this reality ultimately leads to the drama that unfolds in the final third of the film and again, this part of the film uses a simple solution to its low budget restrictions and produces a climax that is both original and thought provoking.
The photography by Christian Stella is gorgeous and uses the fantastic looking scenery to maximum effect. Shot mostly in natural light and in existing buildings, the woods and trails that our protagonists move through add another touch of isolation to their already solitary lives. Ryan Winford’s subtle and haunting score is also very well placed and acts as a perfect contrast to the nice selection of indie folk tunes we hear through Mickey’s headphones. The performances from the small cast are also uniformly excellent and the interplay between Ben and Mickey both feels natural and evolves naturally.
Metrodome Distribution bring The Battery to the UK on DVD in a good-looking 2.35:1 transfer. Colours are strong and the image is as sharp and detailed as DVD will allow. Sound is available in 2.0 channel stereo and is clear and punchy.
Unfortunately, unless you are heavily into scene selection options, this is as far as the disc goes in terms of extras. This is a real shame as the German Blu-ray and DVD release (wonderfully retitled Ben & Mickey vs.The Dead) features an audio commentary from Gardner, Stella and Cronheim, along with a couple of featurettes and a 5.1 audio mix. There’s also a US release planned for September by Scream Factory, which promises a feature-length making of documentary. Criticising a disc for what it isn’t, rather than for what it is, can seem a little unfair, but what makes this lack of extras all the more frustrating, is that a number of them (including the commentary track) were created before any physical home release existed and were ready and waiting to be used.
Mention must also go to the cover art on this release, which when opened out fully, creates a very eye-catching sleeve.
The Battery is a wonderful example of low budget film makers embracing their restrictions, rather than fighting against them. Working within a recognised genre, yet incorporating themes familiar to all, allows the film to breathe on its own and aside from a few obligatory zombie standards, the emotions, actions and fate of the characters will resonate with any viewer. Metrodome’s disc presents the movie very well and minor quibbles regarding additional material aside, is well-packaged and attractively priced. Hopefully this indie gem will find a decent following on DVD and I can’t say enough good things about it. Highly recommended.