Jeremy Gardner isn’t trying to reinvent the zombie wheel with The Battery, a film which he directed, wrote, and co-stars in. There are no twists or swerves that will make you look at the subgenre in a new way. Instead, he sticks close to the formula George Romero perfected so long ago – put the zombies in the background and let the human relationships take center stage. The end result is a loving homage to the films which paved the way for The Battery, as well as a welcomed breath of fresh air into a tired subgenre.
At the heart of The Battery is the relationship between Mitch (Adam Cronheim) and Ben (Gardner), two baseball players navigating the back roads of a zombie-infested New England. Perhaps it was the years spent doing the dirty work behind the plate or maybe it’s just who he is, but either way Ben is well-suited for life in the zombie apocalypse. He’s perfectly OK with giving up the trappings of modern society and embracing a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle. A lifestyle in which bashing in the heads of zombies is a frequent necessity. And then there’s Mitch, a former arm out of the bullpen on Ben’s team. While Ben hunts for mission-critical supplies, Mitch hunts for mementos from ex-girlfriends, toothbrushes, and hair gel. Mitch is primed to rejoin society at a moment’s notice and he doesn’t want the blood of any zombie on his hands when he does so.
At first, it’s easy to line up behind the more-practical Ben. Compared to him, Mitch seems like a detriment to both of their survival. However, there are other moments when it’s similarly easy to understand Mitch’s desire to cling to the past and his idealistic, even desperate, longing to assimilate into a group. Groups lead to societies and those represent a return to normalcy, something that wandering around and killing one zombie at a time never will. Their conflicting ideologies – survive vs. rebuild – are commonplace to zombie fiction. What makes these characters memorable – and what makes the movie great – is the work of Gardner and Cronheim. The chemistry that they have together as well as the skill with which they build these two everyman types propels The Battery above the heads of so many of its peers.
It’s not just the characters who will feel familiar. As mentioned, The Battery hits beats that have been seen time and again since the peak days of Romero. There are transformations, romanticized sanctuaries, and people who are more dangerous than zombies. These are all delivered at face value; however, Gardner knows his audience knows how these things work. As a result, he doesn’t beleaguer his points. He pays tribute to these tropes and moves the plot forward quickly and satisfyingly.
Zombie stuff is very much old hat today, in 2016, and the same was true four years ago when The Battery was released. It's hard to imagine making the walking dead truly scary again, but Gardner does succeed in creating some acute discomfort. This is especially true during one long, unbroken scene in the film's third act set in the back of a car. As monotonous as so much of the work populating the subgenre is, every so often a movie or show comes along that reminds you exactly why you fell in love with zombies in the first place. The Battery is that kind of movie.