Ana Lily Amirpour’s sophomore effort The Bad Batch has had a mixed reception. It’s easy to see why. The filmmaker’s latest features tough to root for characters, a thin narrative and an emphasis on mood over story – leaving it comparable to similarly divisive work like The Neon Demon or Spring Breakers. However, for the sizable portion of movie buffs drawn to the weirder, more unusual side of cult cinema – The Bad Batch has much worthy of praise.
Like her debut effort – the Iranian feminist black and white film A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night – The Bad Batch mixes tones and genres. Amirpour had stated while prepping the movie that it would be like “Mad Max meets Gummo meets Pretty in Pink” and the end result isn’t too far from that. Suki Waterhouse plays Arlene, one of the many in a near-future U.S. kicked out of the country, left to fend for herself in a desert outside Texas, because she doesn’t meet the country’s new criteria to be a citizen.
Out in the desert, Arlene is kidnapped by a gang of cannibals who amputate an arm and a leg from her body. After escaping, she stumbles into a makeshift town called Comfort run by an enigmatic man dubbed The Dream (Keanu Reeves, having a lot of fun). However, through complicated means, her path keeps crossing with Miami Man (Jason Momoa), a more sensitive member of the cannibal tribe.
On the positive front, the visuals in The Bad Batch are constantly arresting. Pretty much every scene features an eye-catching image. Suki Waterhouse’s amputee against the vast desert landscape wielding a pistol is a sight to behold. A moment where Miami Man and Arlene take shelter from a sand storm by covering themselves with a white blanket and we see what’s happening inside the cloth – as the erotic tension between the two grows – is amazing. All these fragmentary images – also worth mentioning is the cannibal’s camp which looks like the music video for Foals’ Miami or the desert rave in Comfort, featuring a DJ booth shaped like a giant stereo – combine to create a cool sensory experience.
The world building of the movie is impressive too. It doesn’t begin with a scroll explaining why these people have been blacklisted from the U.S. Instead, there’s no exposition. The reasons are pieced out slowly and even when we do learn the information – far into the movie – its vague and only briefly alluded to, leaving the audience to fill in the gaps. There’s also a timeliness to the film in the sense that the reason Miami Man was kicked out of the country was because he was an illegal immigrant, hinting that the future depicted is some sort of Trumpian nightmare.
The fact that the world presented is so interesting and well-thought out makes the thinly written narrative frustrating. The reason why characters commit certain actions occasionally don’t ring true, feeling more like excuses to spin the narrative off in new directions. Also, the central “romance” between Arlene and Miami Man is too underdeveloped. The duo only share two real moments of erotic tension – ones which don’t make up for the immense cruelty Momoa’s character’s clan inflicted on the protagonist or the way he threatens her early on in the drama. Thus, the lengths Arlene eventually goes to in order to earn the cannibal’s affection don’t feel natural.
Yet, even with these transgressions, the film has an underlying comedic tone (a small but memorable turn by Jim Carrey as a mute hermit is indicative of this) which helps guide it through its rockier moments. This, along with the gorgeous collection of images, makes The Bad Batch worth seeking out. Stephen Porzio