The Bad Batch | Ana Lily Amirpour | June 23rd, 2017
Films like The Bad Batch are almost primed perfectly to breed frustration. You can have an interesting setting and world, but what’s the point if you don’t create a good story to go with it? The Bad Batch is the second feature film from Ana Lily Amirpour, an up-and-coming writer/director whose first film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – a female-driven vampire film set in Iran – was a breath of fresh air. It blended genres and resulted in a genuinely creepy movie. The Bad Batch is barely genuinely anything.
The film stars Suki Waterhouse as Arlen, a newcomer to a desert wasteland that the United States has fenced off. The government is sending away their “undesirables” to inhabit this hellscape of a place. In the first 10 minutes of the film, Arlen is captured by cannibals who graphically cut off her right arm and leg. It’s quite an intense beginning. Unfortunately, this opening scene isn’t any indication of what this film turns into. The first 20 minutes are almost dialogue-free. Not usually a bad thing, if done correctly. The problem is that we’re shown countless characters and given many pop song montages, instead of character development.
Suki eventually escapes her captors, and ventures into the desert, where she eventually reaches a settlement. This little city is called Comfort, and the subtlety is hammered into viewers’ head like a barbecued limb. Comfort is run by a man named “The Dream”, played with extra sleaze by Keanu Reeves. The Dream is the defacto mayor. He hosts LSD raves, and has an army of pregnant concubines wielding machine guns. Suki eventually gets a prosthetic leg, and wanders back out into the desert – for no real reason other than the plot requires it.
A main problem with The Bad Batch is that the characters’ actions barely make sense, save for Jason Momoa’s character Miami Man. He is the leader of a cannibal group, but he has an artsy heart of gold. He sketches and paints portraits of his young daughter, until Suki comes across her on one of her daily strolls. Suki brings the daughter back to Comfort, which leads Miami Man on a quest to find and save her from The Dream. In between the mission to retrieve his daughter, we’re subjected to countless more music montages and a ten-minute LSD trip of Suki in the desert.
Suki eventually runs into Miami Man, who doesn’t figure out that Suki is the one who took his daughter in the first place. What develops is a strange romance that feels unearned and even downright wrong. Giovanni Ribisi and Jim Carrey are also supporting players in The Bad Batch, but I’m perplexed as to why they signed on for this. Jim Carrey’s drifter character doesn’t have a lick of dialogue, and Ribisi is an insane man that spouts nonsense in two minor scenes. Carrey has the better role here, but he is basically the Deux Ex Machina for a majority of the characters. He’s there when he needs to offer help. Otherwise, he’s not in the film.
The film drags in a lot of places, and the long silent takes don’t help. At certain points, I wanted to scream at the screen to make someone say something. Anything. There are too many back and forth sequences between Comfort and the vast desert. We really don’t get to learn much about how the people in this society function. It all just feels like a wasted opportunity. I’m all for telling a small isolated story in a post-apocalyptic setting. It Comes at Night did a great job with this. The smaller story just wasn’t done well here.
I also deem it a cardinal sin to have two action stars like Jason Momoa and Keanu Reeves never even meet in the same film. There’s no real conflict in The Bad Batch. The sets and the desert setting do look cool, and Keanu Reeves plays a creepy leader pretty well, but it’s just not enough to fill the holes and patches that this movie has. I could see this film having a cult following though. The silent scenes and use of music reminded me of Drive, but even that small scope story seems epic in comparison to this.
The CGI used to remove Suki Waterhouse’s arm is impressive, and she does a fine job with her Southern-accented character. It’s just that she’s written in such a nonsensical way that it’s really hard to root for her. The world created here could have been really interesting. Instead, it’s shrugged off as nothing more than a metaphor for America’s unwanted creatures. If they were this boring in their lives outside of this wasteland, then I don’t blame the government for exiling them.