Since their conception, Scream Factory has prided their brand on high quality reissues of cult genre films. Certainly the titles that have generated the most noise—the works of John Carpenter, including the Halloween boxset; Nightbreed: The Directors Cut; Day of the Dead; The Burning; the list could go on—have been of this ilk, but every so often Scream Factory sneaks a contemporary film into the mix. These titles remind us that Scream Factory is interested in more than just cashing in on fandom, that they are active in their pursuits to herald new, lesser-seen genre pictures. With their last new contemporary releases—The Battery and The Squad—, however, Scream Factory have set the bar substantially higher. Both of these films are significant because they attach themselves to prevalent, exploited subgenres—for The Battery, zombie; for The Squad; witchcraft and the supernatural—of horror, but subvert expectations and conventions. These are films that are not interested in toeing the line; they are singular works that challenge the state of horror.
With that said, it can be far too tempting to overstate the films’ nonconformity, and it seems that this has been the common tread that critics, especially in regards to The Battery, have taken. They have highlighted and isolated the aspects that make the films unique, and overlooked how well the films handle convention. Sure, there is plenty to discuss about how the films depart from their respected subgenres, but, still, the reasons that we are drawn to them—or perhaps why others are not—is how they deal with convention.
The Battery is, in a nutshell, a buddy comedy/road movie re-envisioned through the lens of a Romero-esque zombie apocalypse. Like most of the best zombie pictures, The Battery opens amidst the crisis. A common trope among contemporary zombie films, by the time we meet the characters they seem to posses a working knowledge of their new world, they don’t spend a great deal of time trying to rationalize the reanimated dead. We are not really given an answer as to how the outbreak started, nor is the film interested in developing that line of thinking. The filmmakers, rather, use the format of the zombie genre in order to explore issues about friendship and isolation. At its core, The Battery is a humorous and even tragic story of a complicated friendship. While it would be an exaggeration to overstate the performances, the chemistry between Ben (played by Director Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim) replicates life. Even when the boundaries of their relationship are expanded to their breaking point, the audience never loses sight of the affection they share for each other. Yes, performances are not always even and there are moments where both Gardner and Cronheim over-act, but, comparable to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant and Paranoid Park or the Italian Neo-Realist films, sometimes imbalanced performances can lead to a greater sense of ‘realism’—to use that misleading word liberally.
The aspect that many have seemed to isolate about The Battery is its rather unconventional use of music. While it cannot be universally applied to the subgenre, it is safe to say that an abundant amount of the canon’s titles feature dark, brooding music. The Battery, however, subverts expectations and relies on a soundtrack that features bands that range anywhere from pop, to country, to indie rock. The music solidifies the film’s interest in character psychology. Whereas darker music would help build an aura of fear and suspense, the film, as mentioned, is more interested in the moments that exist between attacks; the over-whelming atmosphere of isolation that Ben and Mickey experience. Mickey escapes through music, and the film muddies the boundaries between the diegetic and non-diegetic spaces when Mickey’s soundtrack becomes the films’. This is the aspect of The Battery that makes it one of 2014’s must-see independent horror releases, because it is a film that both challenges and respects its predecessors. It takes a genre that many have turned away from after countless mundane reiterations, and breathes into it new life.
Scream Factory’s following contemporary release, The Squad, differs from The Battery in almost every conceivable manner, except one. Much like The Battery, The Squad’s principle focus lies in its character’s psychologies. However, where The Battery still offers a great deal of climactic moments, and uses the zombies as a device to drive the plot forward, The Squad’s reliance on its “monster” is almost a complete red herring. The film follows a small military squadron who are sent to investigate a military base that authorities have lost communication with. Arriving at the base expecting to find answers, the squad is only presented with more questions. The abandoned, decrepit base is a sight of horror. Blood lines the walls, remnants of the past occupants are present but any sign of life, or even death, is absent. Paranoia begins to set in almost immediately, and is only heightened when the squad encounters a chained woman located within the base. The woman is unwilling to speak, which polarizes the squad. Half of the squad is convinced that she is a terrorist guerilla, but the squad leader sympathizes with the woman and isn’t as quick to jump to assumptions. When the woman escapes, the squad’s unity begins to break down.
While The Squad relies on the witchcraft/supernatural sub-genre to help generate an atmosphere of palpable fear and suspense, the film is apprehensive to rely too heavy on narrative archetypes. Rather, the film develops a secondary plot, where the men seem to suffer from some collective remorse. After escaping, the mysterious woman plays an insignificant role in the film—in fact, she is almost never seen. The deconstruction of the characters is thus equally attributable to their own collective psychosis—brought upon by guilt, isolation, and claustrophobia—than by what they infer to be the supernatural abilities of the escapee. Narrative ambiguity casts a heavy mark on this film, leaving the film to unravel like a puzzle. Lead by fantastic performances by the mostly unknown, young cast, this Columbian horror-war-thriller hybrid represents one of the best of Scream Factory’s contemporary acquisitions. In addition, Jaime Osorio Marquez’s directorial debut shows a great deal of promise. The Squad’s effectiveness is solely reliant on the visual world in which Marquez creates. Successful in his exploitation fog, cramped spaces, and darkness, Marquez envisions a world where terror is implicit in visuals, allowing the film to refrain from relying on cheap tactics such as the incessant jump scares that have plagued current mainstream horror.
Neither The Battery nor The Squad are the kind of horror films that will be universally appreciated, but they offer a much-needed break from the barrage of current horror releases. With hopes, the release of these films is a sign of a continual, upward growth in quality for Scream Factory’s contemporary releases, which will only further solidify their importance in the modern horror world.
Both films are now available for purchase via Scream Factory’s Wesbite