THE BATTERY Blu-ray Review
Written and directed by Jeremy Gardner
2012, Region A, 100 minutes, Not rated
Blu-ray released on September 16th, 2014
Jeremy Gardner as Ben
Adam Cronheim as Mickey
Niels Bolle as Jerry
Alana O'Brien as Annie
Ben and Mickey were once ballplayers on the same team, but that was before the world moved on and the undead began walking the earth. While not exactly friends, the two are now paired in a pilgrimage across New England, drifting from one empty environment to the next. Their existence is a lonely one, but together they keep each other sane. Ben is more open to the idea of a fallen society, while Mickey holds out hope for a return to normalcy. Their personalities are at odds, but the two are forced to work together in order to survive this nightmare. A radio transmission offers Mickey hope of finding other survivors, despite the instructions to stay away as outsiders are not welcome. His determination to find a fortified community will jeopardize everything, but it beats spending the rest of your life saddled with an obnoxious traveling companion.
The Battery is a micro-budget drama with elements of the horror genre added in for crossover appeal. Resembling the “walk and talk” indie films that populated the 1990s, this is a quiet, esoteric slice of Americana. Many low-budget filmmakers fall into the trap of feeling compelled to be clever, to mimic the dialogue of stronger writers like Quentin Tarantino or Kevin Smith, but what sets this picture apart is the confidence writer/ director Jeremy Gardner has with the material and his willingness to let the action quietly play out at its own pace. The landscapes are the real star of the picture as our protagonists leisurely move from one tranquil location to another, taking their time to appreciate the beauty around them. The occasional zombie intruder keeps things on edge, but for the most part the world is quiet and free of man's chatter.
Gardner's script is a bit too slow for its own good, but Christian Stella's gorgeous cinematography benefits from the pacing. Every location is treated like a work of art and it is clear this guy has a real talent. I look forward to future efforts. The film is carried on the shoulders of the two main actors, Gardner and co-producer Adam Cronheim as Ben and Mickey respectively. Cronheim is instantly likeable as a reluctant participant who is miserable in his new surroundings, while Gardner is alternately someone to root for and at times a character I longed to see fed to the walking dead. Mickey is forever wearing headphones that take him away from the chaos and these songs provide the backdrop for much of the film by offering the only substantial outside voice we hear. The music offers a real push in exploring the emotional state of our leads and is further complemented by Ryan Winford's non-traditional score.
The Battery is at its strongest when the characters are allowed to wander the wide open spaces and do their own thing. Whether they are exploring abandoned houses or playing catch in an apple orchard, these sequences earn a lot of mileage for the low-budget project. Where the film crashes to a full stop is the third act, in which our heroes are trapped inside a car surrounded by zombies. The tension builds immediately despite the attackers' inability to reach inside the car even with all the windows generously cracked for ventilation. What could have been a powerful finale is sabotaged by a series of self-indulgent long takes that kill the already lethargic pacing in order to listen to bickering while the undead complacently finger the glass.
The limited attention span of audiences raised on contemporary movies filled with schizophrenic fast-paced cuts will have a problem with the leisurely pace, but I found it interesting. Gardner and Stella make an impressive debut here and if the picture really was shot for the rumored $6000, then both are in a strong position for future cinematic endeavors. While not everything works, I can easily recommend this picture to other low-budget filmmakers who may be looking to hire a good cinematographer.
Video and Audio:
The Battery was shot using the Canon 5D DSLR camera and the image was matted into the 2.35:1 aspect ratio during post production. Picture quality is strong and both colors and flesh tones appear natural. There is plenty of small-object detail and despite an occasional bit of soft focus, the film looks terrific.
There are two audio options provided here, the default DTS-HD MA 5.1 and a more centered DTS-HD 2.0 track. Both are solid offerings, but I prefer the slightly expanded 5.1, as the music cues really benefit from the mix. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion and English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
The audio commentary with Gardner, Cronheim and Stella is a laid-back conversational piece recorded before the film secured distribution. Every scene was a challenge and holds a story, and the three are more than up to the task of sharing.
Tools of Ignorance: The Making of The Battery (90 minutes) is an exhaustive documentary that is more entertaining than the film it chronicles. The doc serves as a testament to the talents of Stella as a camera operator and the editing skills of Michael Katzman and Alicia Stella, who also created this piece. The amount of hard work the cast and crew put into making The Battery is impressive, but it is frustrating to wonder how the already-difficult task of shooting a film would have been eased had Gardner simply tackled the minimum of pre-production before inviting everybody to assist. Though his actions are at times irresponsible and cavalier, he got lucky this time, as the movie is a success. Let's just hope he respects the film-making process more next time.
The collection of outtakes (12 minutes) provides not only humor, but also a glimpse behind the scenes of the daily challenges on set.
Rock Plaza Central at the Parlor (11 minutes) is a nice visit with some of the musicians who participated in the soundtrack of the film as they prepare for an upcoming reunion performance.
The original trailer rounds out the special features on this disc.