Scream Factory detours from their studio back catalog horror offerings to give the special edition Blu-ray treatment to the micro-budget zombie epic THE BATTERY.
In Connecticut for a game when a zombie apocalypse hits (offscreen), ballplayers Ben (writer/director Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (producer Adam Cronheim) have taken to road – well, the backroads – after an extended stay in a barricaded house that culminated in eating the family dog. The nomadic life agrees with "caveman" Ben who merrily shoots and bludgeons zombies, scavenges resources from abandoned homes, and sources new abandoned automobiles whenever the gas runs out; however, Mickey tries to block out the outside world with a pair of headphones and a discman (rooting through music collections in the abandoned homes), craving a roof over his head and the presence of other living people (particularly a woman).
Shot in sixteen days on a budget of six thousand dollars, the DSLR-lensed THE BATTERY will disappoint zombie fans who want an apocalypse full of flesh-eating, exploding heads, and even some speculation on the cause; but it will make a refreshing departure from the more traditional DTV zombie epics made on a similar budget level. The viewer can admire boorish Ben's practicality and façade of humor as much as find Mickey's behavior exasperating while understanding the basic motivations for safety and routine behind much of it. The unseen threat of the zombies is more effectively conveyed than the actual instances of zombie attacks (there are no stand-out make-up effects but they are proficient enough to not provoke mockery as a side effect of the film's low budget), while the scant supporting performances do not need to be particularly good – although only one is distracting – for the characters to seem a threat since we've spent the entire film with the two leads not expecting the appearance of friendly company. While the picturesque wandering of the first two acts opens the film up, it is actually the claustrophobic third act that is compelling (enough that it could have been a short in itself). Even without having seen the disc's extras, the attentive viewer can tell that the film's spare treatment of action and story is not deliberate (despite the character-driven choice to explore the zombie apocalypse through two characters keeping to the backroads); yet, THE BATTERY manages to be a minor surprise for zombie fans and a major achievement for its makers (considering its festival and overseas reception) and a sign that filmmakers with similarly low resources would do well to think outside the box.
Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1-matted widescreen Blu-ray
probably looks as best as the reportedly six-thousand-dollar budgeted Cannon
5D DSLR-photographed film can look. The image is clean and fairly noiseless
most of the time, and the fair detail in the exterior locations suits the "pastoral"
feel given to many of these scenes. Shots with windows in the frame are usually
blown-out but this seems intentional and moody (most of the car interior scenes
are well-exposed for both the darkened interior and the view through the windshield).
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track for the most part is not very busy, but it
suits the desolate feel of the most of the film with the surrounds coming to
life in scenes with music and giving some dimension to the third act as the
zombies incessantly paw and rock the car). A 2.0 stereo downmix is also included
in a lossless encode. Optional English SDH subtitles are included and are only
in error during the title song in referring to the angel Gabriel as "Gabrielle".
Gardner, Cronheim, and director of photography Christian Stella appear on a jokey but informative audio commentary in which they concede that a lot of longer scenes did not work due to poor planning, in the transition from paper to video, or ad-libbed dialogue just went on endlessly were salvaged in editing (some cut down to the barest essentials while trying to still convey what was meant to have happened). Stella recalls creating makeshift rigs whenever inspiration struck for Gardner about a neat camera movement, Gardner points out the film's subtle CGI (a gunshot effect for a shot where they could not cheat an angle), and Cronheim points out some of the songs by contributors to the soundtrack and endures teasing for his simulated masturbation in the film (there's plenty of ribbing between the three, some of which falls flat with the listener and sometimes the other commentators). They also discuss the major contribution of found locations and props to the film's production value, and how some of the more picturesque scenes of wandering and exploring were B-roll shot a month and a half after principal photography.
"Tools of Ignorance" (89:20) is the multi-part behind-the-scenes featurette which seems more than a little protracted at feature-length but it does give a vivid picture of a poorly-planned ultra-low budget shoot (including a couple poorly-planned MiniDV shoots I've been on for films that were never finished) by not so much inexperienced as undisciplined filmmakers who were nevertheless persisted when it would have been very easy to cut their losses. Gardner talks about his early shorts with college friends Stella (and his wife Elise Stella who plays the "Slutty Zombie" in the feature) including ones about killer Beanie Babies, Furbees, and Pokemon that got local festival play, as well as a feature-length film about killer plastic bags.
THE BATTERY was a year-and-a-half in development with many earlier drafts honoring the more traditional zombie tropes (which Stella was not too enthused about) and Gardner even gave up and started writing it as a novel before deciding on a looser ad-libbed approach as a film. An exasperated Stella recalls the film's two days of pre-production in which he arrived from Florida to discover that Gardner had neither purchased any of the hundred or so listed props or cast any zombie extras. The remaining chapters cover various shooting days, the make-up effects artist who brought her friends and children as extras and made them up as zombies, and Gardner's girlfriend picking up pointers quickly enough to fill, the aforementioned masturbation scene (which was originally written as a rape scene before they felt it went too far), their failed attempt to make squibs with fake blood, condoms, and gun powder balls from roman candles(!) that lead to a major fight, acquiring the Volvo that served as the location for all of the third act, as well as editing/sound design and scoring (as well as the song selection). Gardner has a tendency towards comic asides, but Stella keeps the documentary narrative focused.
The outtakes (11:37) is a series of bloopers, extensions, goofing around, and alternate (and sometimes really bad) ad-libbing of scenes from the finished film (including a bit where the shoot was interrupted by the police). "Rock Plaza Central at The Parlor" (10:46) is a short piece in which the filmmakers follow the music group – who performed the opening credits song – on their first live performance in some years. The disc also includes the film's trailer (1:59) and trailers for BENEATH, DEAD SHADOWS, and CHILLING VISIONS: 5 SENSES OF FEAR. (Eric Cotenas)
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