The Battery is the Last, Best Hope for Zombie Films

When I’m playing fetch with my dog, there’s this trick I like to play on her where I only pretend to throw the ball, sending her racing off like a bat outta hell after absolutely nothing. And she always falls for it, every single time, always leaving me with a sense of self-satisfaction for outsmarting an animal only just intelligent enough to walk or run for political office.

But when it comes to zombie movies, I’m no better than her, always taking the bait even when I really should know better. Like Charlie Brown going for the football or my dog racing after a ball that isn’t there, I keep coming back to zombie movies, always thinking “hey, maybe this will be the one.”

And it never is. Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, Open Grave, Cockneys vs Zombies…..I watched fucking Cockneys vs Zombies, that alone should tell you how desperate I am. Or how masochistic. It’s gotten to the point where I’m ready to slam my door in the entire zombie genre’s face, throwing its dirty laundry and CDs out of my bedroom window while it yells “Come on baby, don’t be like that, I can change!”

Battery posterBut then The Battery shows up at my door, a bouquet of flowers in one hand, a heartfelt speech on its lips, and my resolve weakens. Maybe it can change. Maybe things can be good again. Because The Battery is proof that zombie movies can still be good, that they can even be great. And that as hard as I try, I won’t be able to stop myself from going for that football for a while yet.

While other recent zombie movies have tried to stress the global catastrophe element, The Battery focuses on the small scale even more than Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead, focusing on just two human survivors: Ben and Mickey. From the start, the dichotomy between the two is apparent: Ben has fully embraced post-apocalyptic life in the backwoods they’ve retreated to, while Mickey is desperately clinging to the past. While Ben dispatches zombies with ease, insists on constantly moving from place to place, and is about two-thirds beard, Mickey can’t even bring himself to kill one zombie, yearns for a real home and constantly listens to whatever mix CDs he can find like a post-apocalyptic Star Lord. The film plants its focus on the two and keeps it there, really placing the zombies in the background in favor of human drama and relationships.

Indeed, the majority of the movie is less concerned with establishing a narrative as it is with establishing mood and character, which in all honesty may turn some people off. Not a hell of a lot happens for the first hour or so, just a whole lotta montages set to indie jams, to the point that it isn’t so much a movie with musical interludes as a music video with plot interludes.

This isn’t helped by the fact that the two stars, director/writer Jeremy Gardner and Adam Cronheim aren’t the strongest actors. They aren’t -bad- but their lines often feel recited rather than read. So while I was enjoying The Battery, it wasn’t quite the glorious resurrection of the zombie genre some may have promised.

But then the third act came, and I saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance of the tomb, and the linens they had used to wrap its body piled neatly to the side, and I ran back to the town shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna! The zombie movie is risen!”

The Battery insert

The finale of the film sees the duo trapped inside their station wagon, separated from the keys and surrounded by zombies, arguing over how they could possibly escape and getting piss drunk when they realize it ain’t gonna happen. I’ve often lamented that what brings most modern horror movies down is the impulse to go for the big finish, the spectacular finale that usually sucks all the tension out of the thing because most of the time the big finish involves a whole lotta special effects being thrown at the audience, which is usually about as scary as a tuna sandwhich that’s gone a bit stale.

The Battery avoids this entirely not just by not showing us too much, but by not really showing us anything. The most tense scenes in this entire movie, and I’m not kidding, have precisely zero zombies actually on screen, just the ever-present moans of the just-out-of-sight living dead and the kind of nail-biting tension that’s been missing from horror movies for too long to keep the audience completely captivated.

It all culminates in one glorious long take (one that neatly mirrors the long take that opened the film), but not the kind attention-seeking, masturbatory long take that I myself have written about and gushed over. This is a long take with a purpose, a long take that takes an already tense scene and makes it unbearable, using a lack of editing to make us feel every second tick by, elongating time and keeping the suspense high. It’s a glorious ending, and I really think it may be one of the best horror movie finales I’ve seen in years.

Zombie-related media is everywhere these days. Zombie games clog gaming services like Steam, bombard genre film festivals and overflow from discount DVD bins. But the genre isn’t dead yet, and The Battery proves that.

Like Kirkman’s The Walking Dead and Romero’s original Dead trilogy, it knows that the important part of a zombie movie isn’t the zombies themselves but the people in it, and actually succeeds in making us give a damn about said people while being a genuinely suspenseful and interesting horror film at the same time.

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