On the off chance you’re one of those people who thought A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was maybe too weird and enigmatic, you should probably steer clear of writer/director, Ana Lily Amirpour’s follow-up, The Bad Batch. I say that because if anything, Amirpour doubles down on the experimental and the stranger elements that helped made her previous film so unique. It makes the film far less accessible, but still interesting nonetheless.
There isn’t much in terms of plot, but the basic setup follows Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), a woman that finds herself thrown out of US territory in a vaguely post-apocalyptic setting, where she is immediately captured by a cannibal tribe resulting in her losing an arm and a leg. She escapes and makes her way to a town known as Comfort, which is led by a cult-ish leader named The Dream (Keanu Reeves), where things only proceed to take her into even more bizarre places both literally and emotionally.
The Bad Batch is a film that seems to concern itself with emotions and mood far more than it does in creating a sense of momentum or outright conflict. It’s a film that is all about seducing and absorbing the audience into its world. It revels in the nastiness and the absurd, using provocative imagery to speak for itself without having the characters spoon-feed even the most basic information. The dialogue is sparse and sometimes spoken with a cryptic temperament. A lot of time is spent with characters simply meandering about, such as a mute, unnamed Hermit played by a nearly unrecognizable Jim Carrey, or a homeless man named Bobby (Giovanni Ribisi) who mutters incoherently to himself. The only other real significant player in the film is Miami Man (Jason Mamoa), who is a member of the group of cannibals that took Arlen in the very beginning and finds himself crossing paths with her later on.
The influences that Amirpour pulls from have a broad range from the likes of Nicolas Winding Refn, Jim Jarmusch, Sofia Coppola, Alejandro Jodorowsky and various other cinematic oddballs, but her particular voice still manages to be something unique unto itself. There is always a feeling of Amirpour really opening herself up for the world to see, using metaphorical storytelling to explore deep, but universal emotions. Like her last film, The Bad Batch is a film about outsiders. Though, here we are presented in a harsh, but vaguely familiar and unfortunately relevant (look, I’m trying my best not to write the ten millionth movie review in 2016 to feature the words “Trump’s America”), world in which all undesirables are cast out and forced to fend for themselves. It shows what happens when there is a world without empathy.
Amirpour also cements herself as one of the great cinematic visualists working today. The film is a far cry from the smoky, dark and black-and-white imagery of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Here, her use of color is one of the highlights, as she uses the camera to glide along the desert environment capturing the sweaty glisten of sun-soaked bodies and contrasting it with other elements like the giant, neon covered boombox where The Dream gives his speeches while John (Diego Luna) begins to crank up the volume for the desert druggie rave that’s about to ensue. There’s layers and texture with each image that Amirpour throws at us, and there’s little bits of story within each moment, no matter how miniscule or insignificant it may seem on the surface. It’s one of those films in which the aesthetic is not just fancy window dressing, but an actual storytelling component, and I wholeheartedly believe it’s Amirpour’s biggest strengths as a filmmaker and storyteller.
The Bad Batch is a film that I feel really grows on you, as long as you’re open and willing to submit yourself to a more kaleidoscopic experience, given it is not particularly accessible, which is not a bad thing as far as I’m concerned. It’s a delightfully strange, sometimes silly and occasionally disturbing work of pseudo-psychedelic filmmaking with strong idiosyncratic performances. It has an intimate, quiet and deeply personal quality to it, while also being sprawling and unabashedly cinematic. Rarely are films this confidently bold, original and provocative. And it only gets me more excited to see what else is to come from this filmmaker. 85/100
Screen Media Films and Netflix have acquired distribution rights (theatrical & SVOD, respectively) for an early 2017 release.