Contains mild spoilers.
The Battery is a film that gives one the opportunity to glimpse between the cracks. It's the post-apocalyptic nightmare. Pretty much everyone is dead, or might as well be and there's the ever present chore of scavenging to survive under the cloud of an intense ever pervasive undead threat. Yet between the fights, the bloodshed, the extreme pressure situations where decisions determine who lives and who dies, there's the downtime, the monotony, the loneliness and great sadness. It's a world, that for the genre, while occasionally hinted at, is seldom allowed much focus; here though, under the direction and writing of Jeremy Gardner, we've been allowed in, and it's stark, honest and beautiful.
$6000 is all Gardner is reported to have spent. $6000. I bet Brad Pitt's shoes probably cost more than that. One thing I've said over and over is to make a budget horror, especially one with our friendly undead shamblers in, the most important thing is originality and vision. Derivative low budget amateur zombie films are ten-a-penny; heck I should know. Yes they're on occasion mildly, or even greatly entertaining for the night but they're soon forgotten. The Battery's world is derivative, the zombies look and behaviour is average, the sets are sparse and the action, and drama sporadic, humdrum and often off camera. But all this is perfect and exactly what's required; Gardner and his team know what they're doing and this is not a film that will soon be forgotten.
You see, the zombies themselves are really quite irrelevant other than being the plot tool to enable Ben (Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim), two lost, lonely and now dysfunctional ex-baseball player's relationships to play out. First there's their relationship with the new grey world. Both Ben and Mickey are numb, desensitised. They're past the initial shock, and on the weary long road that is learning to accept that there will never be any great hope, and that eating old tins of food, rummaging through dead children's belongings and occasionally having to smash an ex-persons head in is the new norm. Ben and Mickey are of course different, as is their method of coping and dealing with this everyday grief and depression, but they are a team reliant on each other for much more than food and water. And it's this dynamic, this relationship that stands at the core of the story. At heart this is more a buddy movie than a zombie or horror one.
Ben is more the pragmatist, he can fish, he can mend, he can swing a baseball bat and he copes with the new world by interacting with it. Mickey is more the intuitive type, his coping mechanism is to detach from the world, disappear into himself with some headphones on, and let Ben deal with everything. On the surface Mickey needs Ben more than, Ben needs Mickey; without Ben, you feel Mickey would just curl up into a little ball and die, yet, Ben relies just as much, by having another person to interact with. Their relationship, like each character has great depth; their motivations feel complicated, convoluted and often contradictory, and thus real. As an observer you really end up feeling for both, invested and genuinely desperate to learn what will become them. This is truly great character development, subtle and hazy.
Make-up, effects, action sequences, acting, sets, production all comes at a price and as soon as less than ideal is accepted in one area, the whole stack begins to falter. The Battery in many ways manages to sidestep these amateur film making issues because it knows what its doing, wanting the world to remain firmly in the background, at all times. When needed the zombies are there, they're mean, they're snarly, if a little slow, ponderous, and in the Romero mould, seemingly quite pathetic on their own, easily pushed about and dispatched. But it doesn't really matter as remember, they're the background. The focus is always Ben and Mickey, it's their story, the interest and thus camera focus is how they cope with each trial, and never on the instrument of the trial itself.
Deep, thought provoking, poignant, ambitious; there are many superlatives that can easily be thrown at The Battery. Yes, it's the same film we've seen before, a buddy action / comedy with two guys fighting to survive the zombie holocaust, but it dares to be different; dares to approach it from a different perspective. The script is witty and authentic, the directing brave and acting exceptional. I've read criticism over the use of several long single shot scenes that feel to some unnecessary and ponderous, but it's exactly these scenes that frame the film as a whole lending it a realness that feels tangible. Complaining about this is missing the point. The Battery is an engaging, touching and most importantly human, zombie film and a low budget triumph. And I haven't even mentioned the killer soundtrack - 8/10.