Stars – Jeremy Gardner, Adam Cronheim, Niels Bolle, Alana O’Brien
Director, Writer – Jeremy Gardner
Released by Scream Factory
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
If you were a baseball pitcher would you still work on your curve ball after the zombie apocalypse? Ben and Mickey are two guys who used to play ball, a catcher and a pitcher. They form what is known in the game as the battery. Jeremy Gardner has made a film that is much more than a new twist on the tiring zombie genre. Though there is a constant threat and we are definitely in the aftermath of civilization what matters most is how these two guys get through the day. Survival is not just food, shelter and safety. We see in a very intimate fashion how Ben and Mickey cope, how they try to keep their spirits up and souls alive. Mickey spends a lot of time with his headphones on listening to CDs. In effect he tunes out the world. Ben is the dominant one. He takes care of the zombies they encounter and keeps them safe. Safety to him is moving. He likens their survival method to that of a shark. They have to keep moving or they will be surrounded by zombies and die. However he answers that first question, why would you bother working on your ball game if the world has gone to hell, with a simple but powerful answer – Because it’s fun.
The film is about these two men and their travels in the new zombie world. It is far more of a road picture than a zombie film. They hike with their stuffed backpacks. They take breaks to sit on lawn chairs, smoke and fish. They talk a lot and have an easy going banter between then. Ben was the starting catcher on the team while Mickey was a bull pen pitcher, always warming up. We never find out if this was in the pros or a farm league. Fortunately they are no flashbacks. They get along well but can get on each other at times. At one point they find a nice station wagon to drive around in. The few zombie kills are done off screen. This is a very low budget film. It’s a character study that adheres to enough of the horror genre to give the film an urgent narrative. While fooling around on a pair of walkie-talkies they overhear a man and woman talking. Mickey reaches out and is ignored but is finally told to keep away. They are part of something that does not want to meet anyone new. Mickey keeps trying over and over. He can’t let go of the voice he heard. Annie’s voice. To Ben it is clear, they do not want to have anything to do with you. Let it go. Mickey is clearly smitten with the voice and yearns to be a step closer to civilization again.
The creativity and inspiration in Jeremy Gardner’s script and his direction is readily apparent. Low budget films like this live and die by how they look, how they sound and the acting. Those are things you can’t just dream your way around. They have to be there. Jeremy and Adam Cronheim are very natural and likeable in their roles. Adam used to play baseball and you can see it in the way he pitches. He also spits well, and frequently. Some of the supporting cast members came from an acting class the director attended. Big credit has to go to director of photography Christian Stella. He gives the actors lots of space in the frame. After all these two are just roaming the countryside with no destination so the camera does not fence them in either. The open spaces in the shots and Stella’s framing let the film breathe. There is a relaxed pace to this road picture. We see several long takes that go on for awhile that work well for the story. When things change so does the way we see things.
The soundtrack is outstanding. This really sets this film apart. There are some musical cues done on guitar however there are lots of songs. At first we hear songs that are so sparse. There is an acoustic guitar with minimal accompaniment. This matches the loneliness of the two characters. As the film progress and we learn more about them we get to hear more instruments. It’s more than halfway through the film before we hear any vocal harmony. After constantly being on the move, Mickey insists they stay the night in an actual house. Ben takes Mickey’s headphones and CD player away from him. He tells him he has to be alert and be the look out now. Later that night in a glorious match of music and film Ben puts on the headphones and starts to drink. He’s got a pistol in one hand and a bottle in the other. The music blares loudly. Rock Plaza Central plays an infectious song about not laying down and dying. Ben sings along to the music, but what really gets us and makes the scene is the way he dances. He is floppy and loose. He zigs and zags from side to with total abandon. He is so lost in the moment. Forget the zombies, forget the end of the world for awhile. He reminded me of the old guy who dances in the gas station in Deliverance (1972) during the dueling guitar and banjo scene. Finally able to let his guard down for a while, the sense of relief and celebration is palpable.
After seeing a film like this you want to share it with everyone. Please don’t let the cover or zombie film genre put you off seeing this. This a far from just another zombie film coming down the pike. The Battery is a solid well made road picture about two friends. It is a celebration of everything cheap low budget personal independent film can be.
They can take our bones and bury them deep under the river
But we’ll still be together and we cannot be defeated
- Anthem for the Already Defeated. Rock Plaza Central
Video – 2.35:1
Shooting with a rented lens and a professional DSLR Canon 5D camera DP Christian Stella gives the film a remarkably polished look. Colors are all handled well. Detail is good. There is no time at all when the look of the film lets you down. The transfer looks great. The Battery looks heads and tails better than most indie films, regardless of the budget.
Audio – DTS Stereo and 5.1, with subtitles offered in English
All dialogue is clear. There is an awful lot of conversation between the two leads to be heard. Sound effects fit well. Again what really stands out is the remarkable soundtrack of folk-ish songs that accompany the film. There is a variety but they all feel of that same intimate acoustic almost rural style. The highlight is easily the use of Rock Plaza Central’s Anthem for the Already Defeated. It comes at just the right point in the film and you will bop to this one. How they managed to snag as much good caliber music like this for next to no money is amazing.
Extras – Commentary with Jeremy Gardner, Outtakes, Trailer, Rock Plaza Central at the Parlor, Tools of Ignorance: The Making of the Battery.
The 90 minute making of documentary is a surprisingly frank look at the inception, shooting and assembly of the movie. We see tremendous inspiration and enthusiasm. We see lots of mistakes and disappointments. We see many things that break and go wrong. Writer-director and star Jeremy Gardner admits his obsession with the film Jaws and Robert Shaw. DP Stella gives a fascinating account of his camera work and the time he quit the film. If you liked the film at all this will enhance that appreciation several-fold. They made this film for six thousand dollars.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Excellent