Best Film of 2012 You Didn’t See: The Battery

| December 28, 2012

This is honestly my favorite award each year because I like drawing attention to movies that most people will love but haven’t been told about. The Battery was always the perfect choice for this award because not only if the movie great, it is much more obscure at this point than last year’s winner, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil.

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It is a common trend for first time directors—especially writer/directors—to make movies that impress more with their style than their characters because they have so many things that they want to do that their fear of never getting to make a second movie causes them to cram everything into that first try. It has made for some spectacular films (Primer, Brick, THX 1138, Bad Taste) but it is refreshing when you see a filmmaker who focuses more on character and tone than style and action. The Battery is exactly that film. And while some of that minimalism may be driven by its impressively low six-thousand dollar budget, that in no way diminishes the masterful way in which Jeremy Gardner and his team execute their story, in the same way that a broken mechanical shark does not diminish the greatness of Jaws.

The Battery plays in a genre so over-wrought with submissions that it has become little more than monotonous noise, and so as I sat in the theater watching the first ten minutes I realized that I had never seen an apocalypse like this. This wasn’t about fighting the dead, relishing in brain bashing. This was a character study with zombies at the edges. The tone of the film is set more by the emptiness of the world and the tension between these characters than by the zombies who could show up and tear them apart at any time.

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Ben and Mickey are baseball players who are traveling the northeast, sticking to rural areas and spending their nights camping out or staying in abandoned homes. As Ben tries to prepare Mickey to face a world of the undead their friendship is strained by the temptation of a mysterious place called The Orchard that Mickey hopes is a place where his life can settle. Writer/Director Jeremy Gardner’s performance as Ben is relentlessly veracious, grounding the fantasy of the plot in a pedestrian tone of day to day struggles while possessing the ability to bring levity to Mickey’s austere nature with little more than a well placed line, a audacious dance, or a playful look. While it’s easy to feel that Jeremy steals many of the scenes (men with beards like his usually do) without the dramatic faculties that Adam Cronheim brings to Mickey, Gardner’s performance would be little more than a flash in a pan. In our interview with The Battery crew we discussed how frustrating it must be to have to play the straight man while Gardner has all the fun, but Cronheim takes on the task bravely. Often characters like Mickey can be frustrating in zombie movies because we enjoy characters that are equipped to survive by slaughtering the dead, but Cronheim allows us to sympathize with Mickey because of his weaknesses, not in spite of them. Much of the script comes across as improvised, though Gardner told us that is a result of not being so in love with his own writing that he demanded lines be delivered verbatim from the script.

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It’s the nature of this award that I can’t talk much about the events of the movie, but we did spoil some of them in our interview so I can say that there is a very large portion of this movie that takes place in a very confined space that directly contrasts with the long, beautiful whimsy of the open fields and uninfected cows that proceed it. Knowing that won’t ruin the movie for you, nor will it take away from how daring the sequence is. It asks so much of the audience to endure the passage of time along with its characters, and asks even more of the structure of the film and the characters in order to support it. Were anything about this story lackluster the audience would surely walk out relieved that its over. But that is not the effect. I like these guys and I want to survive right along with them. When it’s over, it feels more like I’ve been through an experience with them, one that both took something out of me, while leaving something behind for me to think about.

I’m sure that this will come across like I’m being indulgent of some filmmakers we interviewed, but I’m not. We interviewed them because I walked out of that theater in love with the story they had told me. Sure there are things about this movie that aren’t perfect. A few lines of exposition get delivered in a way that feels forced, I had to look at a man’s penis, the last shot before the credits first roll invites misinterpretation that the mid-credit sequence then corrects, and while I enjoy the torturous third act not everyone will. But these complaints are either miniscule in their importance and common amongst big budget films, or artistic choices and therefore subjective. This is a great picture unlike any that you’ve seen and it is well worth your time and any effort that it takes to see it.

While deftly coordinating the pendulums of comedy and suspense, The Battery is never short of intensely personal. It’s personal for the characters lost within its borders, for the audience trapped alongside them, and for the filmmakers whose passion for the story they are telling is infectious.

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Nothing concrete has been announced yet but you will get a chance to see The Battery eventually. They have signed a distribution deal and continue to tour film festivals around the country. Go to The Battery website for news and follow their Facebook page for announcements so that you know when they show up in your town. And, of course, check out our interview with Jeremy Gardner, Adam Cronheim, and Christian Stella at the Telluride Horror Show following their World Premiere.

-James Hart

Are you one of the lucky few who have seen The Battery? Leave a comment below and tell us what you thought.

About the Author:

James grew up in a house where Friday night was Movie night, which meant that he’d watched more movies than anybody else his age before he was even old enough to watch the rated R ones. He’ll watch just about anything, though he tends to avoid the horror movies without a sense of humor. Among his favorite movies are: Alien, Fargo, True Romance, Ed Wood, and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. He’s a die-hard LOST fan and a Brown Coat. As a writer, story usually comes first for James. Memorable characters and sharp dialogue are the things that separate the classics from the chaff. That said, he does his best to keep having fun at the movies. He’s seen plenty of critics who would once have accepted summer blockbusters as entertainment become jaded and nit-picky. Sure James loves the art of film and storytelling, but fun comes first, the fun that he had watching Raiders when he was little. Also, E.T. scares the pants off him.
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