THE BATTERY – Fantasia Review
Is there anything more American than baseball and zombies? Sure, that’s not how you’re normally used to hearing such a question, but since we’ve learned that neither applies or pie are truly American in their origin, we need to replace it with something. Anymore, it seems, zombies fit the bill fairly well.
I imagine asking myself, “what two things have never been put together on film,” and then I realize what writer and director Jeremy Gardner must have realized at some point when he developed the idea for making THE BATTERY. This is a film that combines these two very American things, baseball and zombies, doing so in a simplistic way that preserves the core essence of both. You won’t find any rage-induced superhuman zombies or off-the-wall pseudo-scientific explanations for the cause here.
Gardner sets out to tell a story about survival, not unlike that of THE WALKING DEAD, but with a much smaller cast of characters and a much smaller budget. The film centers around two baseball players, Mickey and Ben. They have found themselves wandering through rural Connecticut by foot, or, when the opportunity arises, by abandoned vehicle. Months ago, while in the midst of a baseball game, when the world succumbs to a zombie plague.
Mickey, played by Adam Cronheim, was a relief pitcher in his former life, now a whining, lazy crybaby who feels deprived of life’s amenities that disappeared along with so much of the human population. Mickey is weak, somewhat useless by choice and a liability to Ben, but they are all each other have in what’s left of the world. Ben, played by Jeremy Gardner, was a starting catcher, in control but wild and fun-loving. Ben is capable of taking care of them both, knowledgeable enough to live off the land and scavenge for the rest while Mickey mostly sits around and blows through precious batteries listing to his portable CD player.
THE BATTERY sets in with as much character development, portraying the two somewhat opposing personalities with a minimally confrontational mood. It quickly becomes apparent that they need each other for their own reason, whether they realize it or not, which ultimately proves to be the very heart of Gardner’s film. Only later on, when they encounter the first character outside themselves does the truth of this begin to set in for themselves and for the audience.
The film is shot (Christian Stella) mostly handheld, grainy and immersed in a sort of endless amber glow of the golden hour, as though to suggest the inevitable end of days. This fits splendidly with the backdrop of the rural landscape of Connecticut as Ben and Mickey venture blindly across fields and down lonely stretches of two-lane highway. Accompany this with an appropriately somber and folksy soundtrack and equivalent score (Ryan Winford) and you’ve got a very down home, personal approach to surviving a zombie apocalypse.
As the relationship between Ben and Mickey develops, like so many buddy comedies but with a bit more drama, the zombie epidemic is but a backdrop itself. Only on a few occasions are the zombies scene, until the end and even then as more of a visceral audio presence that serves as a psychological mind f*ck for our central characters. The special effects are minimalistic and far from groundbreaking, but effectively used in a story not truly about the undead to begin with. Armed only with a six-shooter revolver and a baseball bat, Ben and Mickey do their share of damage on the zombies while picking at each others’ nerves as well.
The game of baseball serves as a wonderful icebreaker, and binding agent and a metaphorical storytelling device for Gardner. THE BATTERY blends this in with the zombie survival story nicely, with moments often resembling those between BULL DURHAM’s Nuke and Crash, while others seem a bit more reminiscent of Shaun and Ed from SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Fully realizing a blend of baseball and zombies may seem too random and ridiculous to work, I suggest going into this film with an open mind. Accept the understandable absurdity of the concept and embrace it, then allow Gardner to show you just how well it works when the story itself has little to do with either baseball or zombies.
THE BATTERY is an official selection of the 2013 Fantasia Film Festival.