Far and away one of the best films at Toronto After Dark this year, The Battery has been taking not only Toronto, but the international festival circuit by storm. Winner of three audience award prizes, and official selection of over 20 international film festivals, it’s living up to expectations as one of the best zombie films in years.
I had the opportunity to sit down with writer, director, producer and star Jeremy Gardner, and costar and producer Adam Cronheim to discuss the zombie-less zombie film. Though it is an originally executed film, in many ways, it’s still the same concept. “It’s still zombies,” says Gardner, “and all the rules apply. Even some of the tropes are there. But the seed of it was trying to focus on the way an apocalypse would affect the psychology and the psyche of the human rather than the macro scale that a lot of zombie movies try to do.”
Reportedly made for a meager $6,000, much of the concept of a two-man film was based on budgetary restraints. “Even as a fan of the genre, it forces you to refocus,” Gardner added on the impact of their budget. “It’s hard to splatter a head on screen when you have no money. So it forces you to be creative in what you show and what you don’t show. But I always like things like that, where it’s a little off screen. It’s like Texas Chainsaw Massacre where they always say that it’s one of the most violent movies ever, but you really don’t see anything. It’s all about mood, and tone, and terror.”
“The budget informed the story,” Gardner continued. “It helped inform that it was going to be intimate and in the woods and away from [civilization]. […] I wanted to focus on those things, things that just feel real.” With a long take dedicated to the protagonists brushing their teeth, and one of the funniest and most disturbing scenes in the film involving masturbation, it’s safe to say they’ve managed to touch on the reality of things. They were fearless in showcasing the animal in every human, juxtaposed with the difficulty of letting go of our cages of domesticity.
Much of that juxtaposition was something Gardner saw in himself. He wanted to showcase the longing for creature comforts we would all be guilty of, alongside the primal guy a little too comfortable with going feral. “I like to think that I would be this hunter gatherer,” he said. “My dad was a nature guy, always fishing and catching snakes and stuff. I like to think that I would tap back into that but I’m also a baby. I just want to watch TV with my blanket and my
According to the costars, similar to the budget informing the plot, much of the character development was informed by Cronheim and Gardner’s interaction on set. “We didn’t really know each other going into the project,” said Cronheim, “so the relationship was just authentic.” Having been introduced by Gardner’s manager, Cronheim’s sole knowledge of Gardner was that he loved baseball, and was an Atlanta Braves fan. “We bonded over that,” Cronheim added, “which was what the characters originally bonded over, so it was a very authentic relationship. Then you go out for two weeks and two days and you’re sleeping in cottages together, and you’re with each other all day long and it forced the relationship that’d been written to be what it was.”
“You kind of hope that will inform it,” Gardner added, “and you get up that first day, and then suddenly you’re friends. If you’re on a shoot that small, instantly everyone’s working together, and then you don’t care how bad his shoes stink after a day.”
On the film’s remarkably warm reception on the international film festival circuit, Cronheim was shocked. “I’m not a horror guy myself,” he admits, “so being in a genre picture and seeing other genre films on the circuit has really opened my mind to other possibilities […].”
“It’s just been literally a fantasy,” added Gardner. “I feel like I’m in a waking dream this whole festival circuit. […]You’re going to make a $6000 movie with your friends. Ok, sure, we can do that. But can we? […] It’s going to have a guy brushing his teeth for a minute and a half, and it’s going to have someone putting batteries in a Discman, and it’s not going to cut. And we’re going to test the audience’s patience and it’s going to be a zombie movie without zombies in it. […]The gatekeepers of genre horror, the people who love it, the people who write about it, and the people who are always looking for the next interesting thing – if we even get close, they’ll get what we were going for and I think they’ll embrace us.”
“I didn’t expect it to be as warmly received as it was,” Gardner very honestly admits, “but it’s humbling at the same time as it is a vindication. Yes, people out there do want to see stuff like this. You don’t have to have the most blood, and the most brains. If you do something with personality and from your own point of view and with a little heart, people will get behind it, and it’s been non-stop. The receptions we’ve gotten everywhere, it never fails. And here we are at the tail end of it, and we’ve got the packed house in Toronto, and one of my favourite musicians of all time is coming up on stage to play a song with us. It just never ceases to amaze me, so I hope I can do something that people receive warmly again.”
The night of The Battery’s Toronto premiere saw not only a loud and affectionate reception from a packed theatre, but a live performance of one of the film’s most notable songs. Chris Eaton of Toronto’s own Rock Plaza Central attended the screening, guitar in hand. Following the film’s Q and A session, he took to the stage with Gardner and Cronheim, and performed an acoustic version of the band’s popular “Anthem for the Already Defeated.” It seems there’s no better way to end a yearlong festival tour, and for Gardner, it was a dream come true.