2012 (1hr 41 mins)
On Zombie Appreciation Night, the third night of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, the standout for me was The Battery. This post apocalypse zombie flick was made for $6000. Despite the low-budget, it is an effective “character driven” zombie road trip film that will unexpectedly charm and break your heart at the same time.
Ben and Mickey are ex-baseball players thrown together as a result of a zombie apocalypse. Not friends, not enemies, they tolerate each other as they move from town to town, looking for supplies on what seems like an endless, isolated camping trip. Their personalities grate on each other, with Ben, practical, primal and coarse, constantly baiting and egging on the more sensitive Mickey, who, even in the midst of their dismal surroundings, just wants to settle somewhere. When they make contact with other survivors, this event will divide the men even more in their mission to survive.
I loved how simple this film was. Flashbacks, zombie hordes and gallons of blood were not needed. When I wasn’t laughing at their bickering, all I wanted to see was whether these guys would kill each other before the zombies got to them. Straightforward and beautifully shot primarily in Kent, Connecticut, the settings really gave the actors centre stage, highlighting the tense relationship between the two men. Ben accepts their situation for what it is, and Mickey searches for something other than their next meal. This simple opposition was skillfully played by the actors with the dialogue and the use of isolation not only as a budget saver, but also as an element to keep you focused on the story at hand.
During the Q & A after the screening, writer, director and lead actor Jeremy Gardner explained that the film came from a short he had created for a competition. He kept the budget low by making the movie about the men and not about zombies. Influenced by the film The Children of Men, Gardner wanted the story to stop when the character dynamic stopped. Adam Cronheim, his co-star and one of the film’s producers, was attracted to the character driven script, and since he was an ex-baseball player, he fit the bill to a T.
The chemistry between them was great as their real life relationship mirrored the characters. Just like Ben and Mickey, the actors didn’t know each other well before filming, which helped the character dynamic. Gardner explained that the film’s title is actually an old school term that refers to the relationship between the pitcher and catcher in baseball, which adds to the brilliant simplicity of the film. When ask about the trials of being both a lead actor and the director of the film, Gardner revealed that his D. O. P., Christian Stella, was a good friend, so he trusted him immensely, which gave Gardner the freedom to embrace both directing and acting.
The soundtrack played an important role in the film. Music was a way that Mickey could escape the horrors of his zombie reality, and at times the hard-line truths that Ben was generous in sharing. The director wanted to highlight the film’s “weird methodical pacing” by using some of his favourite songs, or music from bands he had connections to through friends. One such band, Toronto’s Rock Plaza Central, contributed several songs to the film. The audience got a treat during the Q & A when the band’s lead singer Chris Eaton, sang the song “Anthem for the Already Defeated” while Gardner shared his dancing skills once more for the cheering crowd. I have to say, that jovial funeral march of a song is still running through my head. I think it set the tone perfectly for this genuine and subtle horror film.
Favourite Scene: While on the road, the guys come across some cows in a field. Ben stops to make friends with one, and the cow acts like a giant dog, relishing the contact with him. Most likely improvised, this scene was sweet and a little heartbreaking. To me, it showed that Mickey wasn’t the only one that was isolated and starved for some affection.