Apocalypse fatigue is a real problem for fans of independent horror cinema. Post-apocalypse (or “PA,” henceforth) films are an attractive proposition for low-budget filmmakers: get a small cast out in the middle of nowhere for a small shoot, and it’s not too tough (in the States, anyway) to fake the end of the world. Scout out some forests, some abandoned cabins, and you’re set. Unfortunately, this means there are more cheap PA movies coming out every passing month that finding a way to stand out in the subgenre is increasingly difficult. This is particularly tough for PA films that overlap with “zombie films” (another popular low-budget choice), which they often do. It can wear an audience down watching dudes trudging through a forest and fighting off the occasional zombie over and over again. For a PA zombie film to truly stand out, it has to be something really special. Jeremy Gardner’s The Battery, for example, is one of the best horror films of the year, and well deserving of a wide audience.
Ben (writer/director Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim) are two men wandering a mostly rural post-apocalyptic America trying to stay alive. When the film opens, we know virtually nothing about these two men, although as their travels continue we learn a little. They find themselves thrown together by circumstances, constantly on the move, scouring homes for supplies and fighting off zombies as they find them. Well, Ben fights them off; Mickey seems content to let them wander on their way. Ben seems to enjoy the nomadic life, but Mickey wants more. He cuts himself off from the world by listening to his cd player all the time, and refuses to kill any zombies. When a fluke leads the pair to communicating with a mysterious and threatening third party over a set of walkie-talkies, Ben is content to leave them be. Mickey, however, becomes obsessed with finding this tiny sliver of civilization that has somehow survived and tries to communicate with them despite being repeatedly warned that his presence is not welcome.
The majority of the film follows Ben and Mickey around as they check out houses, rest, and move on. There are several moments that are really funny, but overall The Battery resembles a more laid-back and less cartoonish take on Zombieland. These two mismatched guys don’t know each other all that well, and both they and the audience tend to forget that, although they become a little closer as the film progresses. Unlike Zombieland, the audience is constantly aware that the stakes for Ben and Mickey are life and death. When Ben puts Mickey in close contact with a zombie to try to get him to finally kill one, it’s funny, but it’s also unsettling. Much of the film walks that line, an uncomfortable mix of comedy and fear, punctuated by long periods of quiet while Ben fishes or the guys play catch. This is one of the rare PA films that considers there may be some simple pleasures left after civilization is gone. Still, it’s just as important that the film reinforce the fragile nature of the men’s survival, heavily underlined in the film’s intense, protracted (and hugely daring) final act.
Fortunately, Gardner and Cronheim are solid leads, because one or the other of them is in virtually every shot of the film. Their chemistry as sort-of friends stuck in this awful situation is fun and believable. As far as micro-budgets go, Gardner certainly made the most of his: despite a few odd image issues, The Battery looks great, and its few zombies are effectively made up without being too overly grotesque. If there is a minor complaint to be made, it is that the film may be a tad long at 101 minutes, but its relaxed pace and the fun of spending time with its characters makes this barely noticeable. With The Battery, writer/director Gardner and his cast and crew have done the near-unimaginable: making the PA/zombie film truly fun and genuinely exciting again. For that final act alone, The Battery should become an instant classic.
The Battery is available on demand and online from FilmBuff. Find out more about the film on the FilmBuff site here.