By Scott Dorward
The Battery (USA, 2012)
“We’re not going anywhere. Mickey, that’s the point.”
As I mentioned in yesterday’s review of Black Sheep, I am utterly burnt-out on zombie films. It’s got to the stage where I actively avoid anything that involves zombies. Sometimes, enough people with similar tastes recommend one to me that I’m tempted to try it. This is why I relented on Train to Busan. While it was well-made, it was still just another zombie film and did nothing to rekindle my excitement.
The Battery is the first zombie film I’ve watched since then. So, did this one bite me?
There has been a standard-issue Romero zombie apocalypse. Mercifully, The Battery assumes we have seen enough of these and leaves us to extrapolate what we need to. Ben and Mickey are our survivors du jour, a mismatched pair of former baseball players brought together by circumstance rather than friendship.
The two men are travelling across New England, foraging for supplies, never staying in one place. Mickey is completely dissociated from their situation. He spends his time listening to music on headphones with no regard for how vulnerable this makes him. Ben is the driving force of the pair, laying down the laws of survival.
When Mickey finds some walkie-talkies in an abandoned house, they bring him into contact with a standoffish woman named Annie. She is part of a commune of survivors called The Orchard. This, she keeps telling Mickey, is not what it seems.
Energised by the possibility of restoring some form of permanence to their lives, Mikey leads Ben towards disaster.
Fucking zombies. I remember watching Day of the Dead at the cinema in 1985 and wishing there could be more films like this. Even with this third instalment and the various Italian knock-offs, Romero’s take on zombies felt exciting and dangerous. I suspect that somewhere, when I made that wish, a finger curled on a monkey’s paw.
Horror as a genre has always been prone to cheap cash-ins. Zombie films just made this easier. Anyone with a camera, a bit of fake blood, and access to some quiet locations could make one. And dear God they did. Even before The Walking Dead staggered its way onto television, long overstaying its welcome, the rotting corpse of zombie cinema was stinking up horror. It has been at least ten years since I have been able to watch a zombie on the screen without groaning more than it does.
At least The Battery is more of a character portrait of its two leads than a straight zombie film. For most of the first two acts, we barely see any zombies. Those our protagonists do encounter present no serious threat. In fact, when Mickey is stalked by the undead form of a young woman, his reaction is to masturbate over her.
What’s more important is the developing relationship between the two leads. They were members of the same baseball team but barely interacted before things fell apart. Now, Ben has taken it upon himself to protect Mickey, often to Mickey’s irritation. While their ongoing disagreement about whether to settle in one place or move on every day divides them, the two begin to forge some form of uneasy friendship. Maybe Ben’s strategy of always being in motion should have warned them of the danger of attachments, however.
The zombies in The Battery are shamblers, weak individually but deadly in numbers. This is a point very much in its favour. Back before my love of zombie films rotted away, the slow, shuffling hordes of the dead always appealed more than any running, screeching rage monsters. They represented the implacable inevitability of death. You can run, escaping in the short-term, but they will always catch you in the end. Slow zombies are not predators — they are an existential crisis on legs. This is something The Battery definitely gets right.
Like a number of films I’ve watched this month, The Battery is a slow burn. This is a film more concerned with ennui than terror. It spends most of the first act just following these two men around New England, Mickey’s headphones providing a musical soundtrack to their journeys through picturesque but desolate locales. There is some interaction between Ben and Mickey, but the emphasis is more on portraying their alienation. This came very close to exhausting my patience.
Fortunately, as our leads connect with each other and, especially, as the temptation of The Orchard enters their lives, the film becomes more dynamic. This is essential, as the final act of the film is largely a slow, drawn-out siege, with Ben and Mickey trapped in a hopeless situation. If the film had spent less time making us care about them as people, this might have been interminable. As things stand, it’s tense and even somewhat moving.
So has The Battery electrified my love of the zombie genre? It’s certainly the best zombie film I’ve seen in a very long time, but that could be as much of a plaudit as naming my favourite bout of food poisoning. I certainly don’t resent having watched it, and the latter half of the film engaged me more than I thought it possibly could. If you haven’t come to dislike the genre as much as I have, you may find a lot to enjoy here. Still, I can’t see myself shambling off to watch any more zombie films for some time.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- 1 – Baskin (2015)
- 2 – The Bar (2017)
- 3 – The Editor (2014)
- 4 – The Beach House (2019)
- 5 – The Mummy (1959)
- 6 – The Wind (2020)
- 7 – Tigers are Not Afraid (2018)
- 8 – Voices From Beyond (1991)
- 9 – Dearest Sister (2016)
- 10 – Patrick (1978)
- 11 – The Transfiguration (2016)
- 12 – The House at the End of Time (2013)
- 13 – The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
- 14 – The Hallow (2015)
- 15 – Night of the Demons (1988)
- 16 – Deep Dark (2015)
- 17 – The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)
- 18 – Black Sheep (2006)
- 19 – The Battery (2012)
- 20 – Eaten Alive (1976)
- 21 – Satan’s Slaves (2017)
- 22 – Evolution (2015)
- 23 – Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)
- 24 – The Dead Center (2018)
- 25 – Your Vice is a Locked Room and I Have the Only Key (1972)
- 26 – The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
- 27 – Here Comes the Devil (2012)
- 28 – Gretel & Hansel (2020)
- 29 – Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)
- 30 – The Stepfather (1987)
- 31 – In Fabric (2018)
Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!