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“THE BATTERY” (Dead by Dawn Festival Movie Review)

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There are as many horror fans who loathe zombie movies as there are those who love them. Described as an “anti-zombie zombie movie” THE BATTERY is the most reinvigorating take on this overworn subgenre I’ve seen in ages.

Made for a mere $6K, writer/director Jeremy Gardner’s debut feature as director (following on THE BAGS, which he scripted thirteen years ago as a teenager) puts the zombies in the background and focuses instead on the adaptive strategies of its reluctant post-apocalypse partners Mickey (co-producer Adam Cronheim), the morose panty-sniffing romantic, and Ben (Gardner) the chaotic lumbering caveman. Their onscreen chemistry is palpable and addictive – for once in a Q+A when audience members asked about a sequel, I suspected the curiosity was genuine. Although these characters do questionable and sometimes despicable things, it’s difficult not to like them.

We don’t know precisely when the outbreak hit, only that our protagonists have been transient for a while, and are determined to keep moving through the backwoods where there are less of ‘them’ (the Z-word is uttered only begrudgingly). Barely friends before this misadventure began, Mickey owes his life to his more brutish counterpart, who does all the killing – an ongoing bone of contention.

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Contrasting its inherent road movie affiliations, the film revels in stillness (including an epic and nearly motionless 11-minute shot) but its comic flourishes, including well-timed odd couple dialogue, removes it somewhat from the realm of the next-generation mumblecore films it could otherwise be at home alongside, such as the dreamy films of Mike Ott or Clay Jeter’s JESS + MOSS. As such, it’s an odd hybrid, one that has been appreciated by European audiences more than American ones, which is especially ironic considering America’s favourite pastime – which Europeans have little attachment to – not only informs the backstory but gives the film its title, referring to the relationship between the pitcher and catcher on a baseball field.

Like any road movie, the film is full of music, in this case a bewitching roster of Americana that is cleverly incorporated via Mickey’s ever-present and dangerously distracting headphones.* Music provides an escape for Mickey and a release for Ben; while Mickey hides between the insulating din of the speakers, Ben dances and flails, framed beautifully (and comically) against a weird mystical painting. Finding time to dance is important in such a grim context.

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Christian Stella’s sun-soaked cinematography infuses the film with a sense of quiet unease, its lulling effect veiling potential dangers. The fresh outdoor air becomes stale and confining as the empty houses – as in NIGHT OF THE COMET- tease the protagonists with their elusive material comforts. More favourite moments: the two boys silently brushing their teeth (just because it’s the apocalypse doesn’t mean the daily ablutions go out the window); a masturbatory misjudgement; conflicting visualizations of a disembodied voice; a poignant tribute to JAWS.

This highly nuanced and somewhat polarizing ‘zombie’ film has a tentative digital release date in June, which may get pushed as it continues its upswinging festival run (it’s just won three well-deserved audience awards in a row, most recently at Dead by Dawn in Edinburgh), but either way, mark your calendars and stay tuned for more coverage of THE BATTERY here on Fango.

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*At the Imagine Film Festival in Amsterdam, where the film won the audience award two weeks prior to Dead by Dawn, Gardner’s musical fixation became apparent when he would routinely stop talking mid-sentence to point out the song playing over the stereo and break down its lyrical wit. They say you can’t serve two masters, but with THE BATTERY, Gardner adeptly makes his two obsessions serve eachother.

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About the author
Kier-La Janisse http://www.big-smash.com
Kier-La Janisse is a writer and film programmer based in Montreal, Canada. She is the Founding Director of The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies and a film programmer for Fantastic Fest, POP Montreal and SF Indie. She has been a programmer for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, founded the CineMuerte Horror Film Festival in Vancouver and co-founded Montreal's Blue Sunshine Psychotronic Film Centre. She is the author of A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi (FAB Press, 2007) and House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (FAB Press, 2012).
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