It seems fitting that I got a chance to see a small, very indie zombie film like The Battery ahead of seeing World War Z later this week (review to be posted week of release). I say fitting because from outward appearances, the two films occupy opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of zombie fare: one immensely large in scale and budget and the other small and intimate. Honestly, I don’t have any interest in talking too much about the budget sizes of either and only bring it up because it’s worth noting what-all you can do with limited resources with a looming big budget epic just around the corner.
The Battery is a charming, smart and all together enjoyable film about the very human challenges of day-to-day life after a (assumed) large-scale zombie outbreak. The film’s title refers to the combination of a pitcher and catcher on a baseball team. In some cases, the battery is two players that selectively work with one another because of their rhythm in the game and/or comfort for one another.
In our case, the two leads Mickey the pitcher (Adam Cronheim) and Ben the catcher (Jeremy Gardner, also writer/director) do not embody the latter description and are basically not more than teammates when the outbreak happens and end up essentially stuck with each other in the aftermath. This creates a wonderful dynamic of strained understanding between the two men as they don’t have much in the way of shared back story or long-standing friendship to lean on.
We find the men traveling pretty much non-stop months after the outbreak occurred. They stick to the forests, side roads and less populated areas to minimize the chance of dealing with the infected (for reference, the zombies are very much the shambly-type, not the sprinting kind). Mickey is very much stuck in the activities of his previous life: using hair-care products, shaving, constantly listening to music on a pair of headphones and even scratching lottery tickets and keeping the winning ones. Ben, unkept and heavily bearded, seems to have embraced the reality of their new situation and takes some amount of enjoyment in scavenging for canned goods, finding useful objects and dispatching various zombies as they encounter them.
This creates a clear disconnect between them as Ben sees Mickey’s obsessing about their former life as a weakness and a potential threat to their safety. Further, Mickey cannot bring himself to kill a zombie and won’t acknowledge what they are by name. These issues ebb and flow through different parts of the film and add a level of depth that isn’t normally seen in zombie-type films. I also loved the scenes that involved the two men playing catch and jawing a bit because it opened the door for Ben’s character to show he did have some sadness over what-all was lost – even if he doesn’t lay it out verbally.
Through a chance overhearing of a radio transmission through a pair of walkie-talkies they’d found, Ben and Mickey are faced with the reality that there might be a highly organized, possibly civilized survivor encampment somewhere in their area. For Ben, this doesn’t seem appealing but for Mickey it would be a chance to live in a society, to reclaim some sense of normalcy again. Almost as soon as they make this discovery is that door slammed shut by those they overhear but that glimmer, that possibility for Mickey is too much to bear. He won’t let it drop and, through a series of decisions that fly in the face of Ben’s logic, the men are propelled into a tense situation that becomes more dire, more scary and nothing either of them could’ve seen coming not days before.
I think it is important to point out that the effect the final act of this film has on you depends almost entirely on your feeling about each of the characters. If the sometimes airy, directionless nature of the first part of the film didn’t resonate with you then you might not be fully invested in the two men and their plight. For some, the tempo early on might be too measured, too slow for their tastes.
For me though, I loved the way in which we spend time with them without a clear goal in mind. The complexities of each of their states of mind and the subtle context clues of who they are as people are things that didn’t need to be rushed or laid out in some long, complex bit of exposition. We’re also not subjected to flashbacks or too much in the way of talking about when it all started and are also spared the larger governmental or alien or virus based origin of the outbreak itself. The situation is what we see, not a larger complicated mish-mash of unnecessary data. There is an immediacy and human honesty to that decision that I greatly admired.
I don’t want to give away anything that happens in the final act of the film but what I will say (as I noted above) that I was fully vested in these two men and so how it all unfolds and the depths of fear and raw emotion and desperation felt real and sincere to me. Had I not been given a chance to get to know them as people, I don’t know that anything in the second half let alone the final act would’ve mattered much.
All in all, The Battery is an excellent independent film that not only laid out a unique way to tell a story about zombie survivors but realized that early promise with solid camerawork, good soundtrack choices and very solid performances from the two main leads. Not a scare-a-minute type of film but instead something much more rewarding.
The film is currently available on multiple VOD platforms including iTunes.