'The Bad Batch'
Ana Lily Amirpour had a striking directorial debut with the black-and-white Iranian vampire Western ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night‘. Clearly a filmmaker of great talent and imagination, she’s returned this year with a bitter dystopian tale filled with social commentary, grungy imagery, brutality and desperation, but little action. It’s a striking creation, especially for the first 90 minutes or so. Then it kind of falls apart.
‘The Bad Batch’ takes place in a world where all of America’s unwanted citizens are shipped off to a desert to fend for themselves. Suki Waterhouse plays a young woman named Arlen who was tossed into this hellscape, where she’s instantly kidnapped by a group of cannibals who chop off one of her arms and legs to feast. Somehow she escapes and is rescued by a bearded, silent and homeless wanderer (Jim Carrey, whom I honestly didn’t recognize until the credits). She ends up in the closest thing to society in the wasteland: a bizarre community known as Comfort, which is essentially a nightmare version of America run by a Jim Jones-esque cult leader (a dead-panning Keanu Reeves) and fueled by the sounds of EDM.
It’s a strikingly nihilistic vision. The almost entirely silent opening half hour is a powerfully disturbing nightmare impossible to tear your eyes from. The world cobbled together from trash and 1990s relics is oddly beautiful in its filthy decay. The performances are stylized but wonderful (especially Jim Carrey). The ways in which Amirpour piles metaphors and satire onto her uniquely foreboding landscape resonate deeply through all the heat, horrors and torture. She is clearly a filmmaker of great ambition, capable of casting hypnotically harsh cinematic spells that are all too easy to get lost within no matter how difficult they are to suffer through.
Unfortunately, while Amirpour’s sense of location, visuals, tone and character are chillingly on-point, her story drifts away from her. After establishing the stunning world, her tale gradually turns into a lost daughter hunt involving Jason Momoa as a beefcake cannibal with a heart of gold, which gets irritating rather quickly. While it’s a noble intent for the filmmaker to slip hope into her horrible world, the results feel like something out of a completely different movie that isn’t nearly as good as what came before.
Still, the first hour or so of ‘The Bad Batch’ is so damn strong that the movie demands to be seen. It proves that Amirpour’s initial success wasn’t a fluke. She’s a genre filmmaker with a unique vision. Hopefully, next time her script will match her ideas and imagination.