Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Battery

Being a low budget filmmaker myself (micro budget actually) I can definitely appreciate the low key approach to the long overused zombie apocalypse plot present in The Battery. It’s a very simple story told very well despite some iffy acting and dumb plot developments.

Two minor league baseball players, Ben (Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim), with clashing personalities attempt to make their way out of rural New England after a zombie plague sweeps the US.
Writer/director/star Jeremy Gardner really knows how to not only set up a dread filled atmosphere for the entire runtime, but takes the time to really set up his characters and their personalities before the shit goes down. They bicker, act like children at times, share stories about themselves and come to think of each other as brothers along the way. One of them treats the situation they are in with a free-spirited upbeat outlook (Ben) and the other is a gloomy Gus who would rather listen to music than deal with reality (Mickey) and together they form “The Battery” of the title; there’s a positive and a negative. The fact that each of them shares the name of a popular rodent also goes to show who the dominant person is in the relationship.

There is also a “coming of age” aspect to the story in that Mickey refuses to accept the situation he is in, shies away from reality and is adamant about not wanting to kill any zombie they come across, always leaving the task up to Ben. Over the course of the film we see Mickey begin to man up and grow a pair thanks to a trick pulled by Ben that I feel is totally against his character and made me dislike him immensely. Then again, Mickey does something equally stupid to put themselves in danger that made me feel the same way toward him. Way to go, bro.
The world that The Battery takes place in is also well thought out and frightening in that we all know from previous zombie films what these creatures are capable of, but we rarely see an undead ghoul in person. The tension created by this is surprisingly effective since their appearance is never telegraphed and always is a surprise. It was most likely a budget issue that restricted the amount of make-up effects and/or extras available at any given time, but whatever the case may have been, it works.

Gardner’s writing is pretty good for the most part, but his direction is a little suspect. Sure he knows when to show something overly gory and when not to. He also knows when a simple lingering shot can build the proper amount of suspense. He has the technical knowhow to make the most of his sparse locations and the like. It’s not this particular area of his direction I find lacking.
Long story short, Gardner needs to work on is getting decent performances out of not only himself, but his fellow actors. While the performances aren’t Showgirls bad, they definitely leave something to be desired. Gardner himself seems quite aloof, even for the character, and has a terminal case of the smileys for the entire runtime (and has a fondness for really crappy indie rock too). Adam Cronheim looks like he’s trying too hard to be serious and morose, sometimes looking like he’s constipated. His big scene in the end makes him look extremely goofy and almost made me giggle. The minor supporting players that pop up along the way are no better, coming off as fellow theater people that have forgotten they aren’t on stage anymore. In fact, the entire film comes off as a stage play since there are only a handful of locations used throughout the piece. If only Gardner could have wringed better performances out of his troupe I might have become more invested in the film as a whole.

The big finale is kind of awesome. I won’t reveal the specifics, but believe me it is a tense situation. My problem is that due to the above mentioned issues I have with the acting and some of the writing it could have been so much better. There are also a lot of visual errors that ruin the effect as well. Hint: The sun makes shadows.
The Battery is a successful indie film that has a desolate, depressing feel to it with a little hope sprinkled in so it isn’t a complete downer. Like I said at the start, I appreciate that low budget movies like this are made that attempt to focus on character and plot instead of graphic dismemberments and wanton violence. It’s just unfortunate that the director cast himself in the movie as well as some actors that need to hone their craft a bit more, as well as work on his character development.

This flick had so much potential but only managed to tap about 60% of it. The Battery is not a bad movie, it’s just not all that great.

3 out of 5

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