Lets face facts here. There are a lot of zombie films, but there are not a lot of good zombie films. The living dead have covered everything from diaries to oases to bogs and bongs. But there are very few ones worth visiting: Dawn of the Dead obviously, and Night of the Living, maybe the Flesh Eaters and definitely Sean. But then things start drying up like a two year old corpse left out in the sun. Of course many of the bad zombie films are incredibly cheap, but that doesn’t mean they have to be rubbish.
If you have a budget of about 50p and you want to make a great zombie movie you have two choices. Either go crazy with plasticine in a cabin in the woods for a few weekends like The Evil Dead, or make an intimate character piece and hope to hell that you are talented enough a writer with a good couple of actors to pull it off. Fortunately, not only is writer/director Jeremy Gardner really good at writing and directing but he also has two great leads in The Battery. One of which is himself.
The Battery is pretty much two actors pissing each other off for an hour and a half. A large chunk of it is set on the back seat of a Volvo. There aren’t that many zombies in it and those that are aren’t the most impressive bunch of stiffs. Its set some time after the apocalypse has kicked off and a lot of what the two protagonists talk about suggests all the real action has already happened. And really, not a lot does happen. However, The Battery is brilliant.
The battery of the title does not refer to a small energy cell (although there is one in the opening shot) but that Gardener and his colleague, Adam Cronheim, were in a baseball team together and somehow survived when all this crazy walking dead business kicked off. The fact that they are co workers and not actual friends is central to the dynamic of their relationship. Cronheim is constantly moaning about how he doesn’t really know or have anything in common with Gardner and its just bad luck that they have ended up together. Actually, Cronheim is completely and utterly wrong. It is his good luck that he’s with Gardner, because that big bear of a man with his giant beard and burning eyes has taken to the zombie apocalypse like a particularly aggressive fish to water. It is like he was born to survive in this future hell. He’s able to fish, make fires and kill zombies like he’s done it forever. Cronheim has not even put a zombie down yet. The closest he’s got to one is having a wank over a female one who he finds kinda hot.
The real tragedy of the dynamic between the two leads is that they could be great friends if Cronheim would just let them. Gardner is always trying to help his partner, always trying to engage with him, wake him up to their reality (not always in a good way to be fair: being woken up to a zombie in your bedroom to encourage you to kill it ain’t going to warm you to the person who put it there), but the moment Cronheim finds one far away voice on a working radio he just wants to get away, make a new friend.
Part of the problem for the men is that they never come across any other survivors. Cronheim can’t get away because there is no one else to go away with. Without giving too much away this is both the making of their friendship and the undoing of it. Cronheim is so desperate to find somebody, anybody, else that he is in danger of destroying what an amazing thing he has right before his eyes. It has the classic George A. Romero trope of the humans making stupid mistakes which can lead to their destruction, in this case it is just one word.
Hey, this makes it sound like a dour, miserablist piece but don’t believe it for a second. Its also a lot of fun. The zombie action is secondary to the pair’s relationship but its telling that you end up so invested in the mundanity of two people living through this nightmare world that a long, single shot of them brushing their teeth is completely compelling. Plus like I said before, Cronheim has a toss over a sexy zombie.
Whether due to budget limitations or just genius the final act is entirely set in one very small location. This should be somewhat annoying and claustrophobic, and well, yes, it is the latter but it’s also a fantastic microcosm of all of the film that has gone before it. There are a number of long shots through out the movie, but there is one here which is seems to last forever but it is hellishly tense.
On top of all the great chemistry and writing the film looks really nice too with lovely compositions, although the odd shot does look a bit video. But, hell, this was made for $6000 so it was certainly shot on video. And I think we should forgive Gardner and his crew any minor errors: they’ve made not just a great zombie movie but a great movie in general.