The Bad Batch, 2017.
Written and Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
Starring Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Giovanni Ribisi, Jayda Fink, Cory Roberts, Yolanda Ross, and Diego Luna
A dystopian love story in a Texas wasteland and set in a community of cannibals.
Before even getting into how artistically weird yet visually arresting The Bad Batch is, it is necessary to point out that regardless of whether one likes her films or not, Ana Lily Amirpour is making a name for herself as a must watch slaying writer/director combination. The Bad Batch is a dystopian, Mad Max reminiscent wasteland, pseudo-apocalyptic resembling experience (I intentionally hesitate to use the word story, as there largely is none), which is the polar opposite from her equally unique black and white Iranian vampire debut feature A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Amirpour is an auteur with a whopping range of artistic expression.
This time around, she’s also working with a highly talented cast utilized in a number of smaller roles. Beyond Texas lies a wasteland specifically designed for extreme criminals and those deemed not suitable to fit in with normal society (you can start drawing a host of political allegories now and throughout the movie), which is populated by mute drifter hermits wandering the desert, civilized towns that have the makeup and feel of something players would come across in a Fallout video game, another secluded area made up of cannibals, and more. Driving the movie forward and also ensuring the lengthy running time rarely becomes boring or wears out its welcome are numerous thinly drawn characters at surface level, who carry layers of subtext.
Giovanni Ribisi plays a townsman at Comfort (led by a charismatic, porn mustache rocking Keanu Reeves) who apparently spends his days walking around screaming obscenities and nonsense as the village idiot, but done so in a way that presents the lunatic as someone worth further exploring. The movie never does, as it is deliberately vague and frankly, there isn’t enough time to give everyone a story, but it all breathes life into the supremely crafted world building. Another stand out is Jim Carrey’s aforementioned mute hermit, complete with the animated facial expressions that launched his career into fame except here accomplishing more subtle, silent movie style conversations. It’s never clear why he’s willingly choosing to just hang out in the desert, but he almost seems as a protector or guide of sorts for those aimlessly lost, both spiritually and physically.
Anyway, the meat of the loose narrative arc follows a young woman named Arlen (played by Suki Waterhouse giving a relatively strong debut performance eliciting emotions ranging from hopelessness, vulnerability, to inner strength and moments of physical defiance) navigating the different sectors of the wasteland. She encounters the lowest of the low and those that surprisingly are able to function in a civilized manner, yet puts her main priority into caring for a young girl she stumbles across, who is actually the daughter or daughter figure of Jason Momoa’s intimidating cannibal bad ass. I don’t want to spoil what little story there is, but I will say that The Bad Batch consistently enjoys defying your expectations, shifting genres with grace while also maintaining the same bleak tone. The ending may not be as moving as intended but is ultimately a bittersweet culmination of a string of events.
Of course, making up for the scarce narrative are imaginative and fully realized visual aesthetics. Comfort operates on a class system, and let’s just say Keanu Reeves is somehow living the dream (he somehow has spaghetti in the wasteland). Surrounding his rave scene environments are some trippy drugs and life-sized boomboxes playing a wide variety of different styles of electronic music, along with some notable classic pop songs. The cinematography of the wasteland itself is also impressive and executed with precision; an earlier scene of Arlen hiding out in an abandoned vehicle as ravagers slowly drive into focus from the background is a definite winner.
Visually, The Bad Batch also takes pride in provoking thought from writings on signs and various objects characters possess. The film is always drilling into the inhabitants of the wasteland to find comfort and to let the dream enter them, which subtly keeps audiences thinking about the themes after the credits roll. There’s also an extended, stimulating dialogue conversation towards the end with Keanu Reeves (he’s known as simply The Dream) and Arlen; it adds to the philosophical nature of the storytelling. Furthermore, some sights (a random drifter in town dressed as the Statue of Liberty holding a sign stating something about finding freedom) wouldn’t be an out of place image in today’s America.
Obviously, The Bad Batch is not for everyone and will probably frustrate the living hell out of anyone that absolutely needs a coherent plot to find enjoyment from a film. With that said, it’s nowhere near as pretentious as one might assume; it’s beautifully captured and peppers in numerous characters so interesting that they each could probably have their own film. The story is not the reason The Bad Batch works, world building with memorable performances from limited roles deliver the lasting impression. Additionally, Amirpour’s first two films are so wildly different from one another, that whenever she pursues next should already be eagerly anticipated.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★