Once a hor­ror sub­gen­re hits the peak of pop­u­lar­i­ty in its cycle, a phase of exper­i­men­ta­tion sets in where the sub­gen­re is cross­bred with oth­er gen­res or film­mak­ing approach­es by film­mak­ers look­ing for a fresh angle on famil­iar arche­types.  The zom­bie sub­gen­re is cur­rent­ly in one of those phas­es, with a lot of films cross­breed­ing the zom­bie movie with com­e­dy.  The mak­ers of The Battery have bypassed com­e­dy to devise their own clev­er cross­breed of zom­bie movie and mum­blecore dra­ma.  The result has been a hit in hor­ror Battery-pos2web­site and fes­ti­val cir­cles but its appeal will depend on how you feel about its blend of sto­ry­telling styles.

The Battery takes place in the after­math of a zom­bie apoc­a­lypse but the film­mak­ers keep the sto­ry­telling at a micro lev­el by focus­ing on the tra­vails of Ben (writer/director Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (pro­duc­er Adam Cronheim).  These two were base­ball play­ers pri­or to the zom­bie epi­demic but bare­ly knew each oth­er and have been forced into a sort of Odd Couple-style sit­u­a­tion.

Ben has com­fort­ably worked into the groove of post-apoc­a­lypse life, lead­ing the duo on an exis­tence where they roam the back­woods and kills any zom­bies that cross their path.  Mickey longs for a more per­ma­nent home and can’t bring him­self to kill a zom­bie, spend­ing much of his time morose­ly lis­ten­ing to head­phones.  Their aim­less exis­tence finds a direc­tion when Mickey over­hears a group of sur­vivors on a walkie-talkie and fix­ates on meet­ing, Battery-01par­tic­u­lar­ly a female mem­ber named Annie (Alana O’Brien). Though she makes it clear they won’t be wel­come, Mickey fix­ates on find­ing her and thus leads the duo to a dan­ger­ous and poten­tial­ly lethal cross­roads in their post-zom­bie exis­tence.

It’s not hard to see why The Battery has attract­ed a healthy fan­base: Gardner’s direc­tion shows a like­able will­ing­ness to take chances.  It gives the mori­bund zom­bie sub­gen­re a shot in the arm by throw­ing out a lot of the famil­iar sur­vival-hor­ror tropes and focus­ing on the rela­tion­ships of its char­ac­ters.  It bypass­es the usu­al visu­al and aural styl­is­tic cues of zom­bie hor­ror, replac­ing them with a dreamy, nat­u­ral-light­ing visu­al style and a sound­track of care­ful­ly-curat­ed indie rock with a folksy, acoustic bent.  It’s worth not­ing that per­for­mances are all above aver­age for a Battery-02micro-bud­get indie.

However, this gutsi­ness is so appeal­ing to some view­ers that it blinds them to some notice­able prob­lems that The Battery has.  To being with, the script is rather unde­vel­oped: some­times it has a plot and some­times it’s con­tent to just drift in an art­house style.  Gardner stacks the film with plen­ty of mem­o­rable inci­dents but the­se moments often fall into the cat­e­go­ry of “cool sce­nes that the direc­tor want­ed to do” rather than moments that add up to a tex­tured nar­ra­tive.  For exam­ple, a scene where a sex­u­al­ly frus­trat­ed Mickey mas­tur­bates while see­ing a zom­bie Battery-03out­side the car only to be inter­rupt­ed by a laugh­ing Ben is sur­pris­ing — but when the film cuts away to anoth­er scene, the view­er is left won­der­ing how the two dealt with the after­math of that moment.

A big­ger sto­ry­telling prob­lem for The Battery is that the char­ac­ters are pre­sent­ed with issues to con­front — Ben’s reflex­ive cru­el streak, Mickey’s refusal to deal with the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion on its own terms — that are nev­er real­ly dealt with in a mean­ing­ful way.  Even a moment where the two have a fist fight is glossed over in a few min­utes.  Since nei­ther one expe­ri­ences much of a char­ac­ter arc, it’s easy to become annoyed with their dif­fi­cult per­son­al­i­ties: Ben is fre­quent­ly a creep, given to mean-spirit­ed pranks, and Mickey is such a stub­born, emo whin­er that it’Battery-04s amaz­ing he’s man­aged to sur­vive the zom­bie inva­sion.  A dra­mat­ic third act that is built around the­se two nev­er achieves the emo­tion­al weight the film­mak­ers are reach­ing for because it’s so hard to relate to the­se two.

Simply put, there’s a fine line between being edgy and being annoy­ing.  The dif­fer­ence between the two lies in hav­ing a moti­va­tion for and a point to one’s edgy artis­tic moves — and The Battery is all too often con­tent to do the unex­pect­ed just to be dif­fer­ent.  Therefore, its appeal will vary depend­ing on your patience for micro-bud­get indie exper­i­men­ta­tion — but there is def­i­nite­ly tal­ent at work here and those inter­est­ed in a crossover between mum­blecore and hor­ror might find it worth­while.