Ana Lily Amirpour
1 Hr., 58 Mins.
The Bad Batch February 3, 2018
he straw-haired heroine of Ana Lily Amirpour’s second feature, The Bad Batch (2017), sure goes through a lot. Just five minutes into the movie, an arm and a leg are sawed off by a pair of golf cart-riding cannibals while “All That She Wants” by Ace of Base plays on the radio. Then she’s slathered in feces, half-eaten, forced to kill in self-defense, inhibited by a potent acid drop, made to barter with a beast of a maneater she pisses off (Jason Momoa), and then
convinced to try to outsmart an all-powerful cult-leader (Keanu Reeves) who could have her offed quicker than he could tie his everlastingly mussed set of Hugh Hefner bathrobes. The girl is Arlen (London-based model Suki Waterhouse), and she’s living in an unspecified future that could perhaps only be likened to the one envisioned in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981), just with a hell of a lot more sand and tumbleweeds.
In it, the population as we've come to know it has been separated into two factions: those billed “normal” by a totalitarian government, and those deemed undesirable, or part of a “bad batch.” Like in New York, the baddies are generally criminals and ne’er-do-wells, locked up in a makeshift prison. In The Bad Batch, though, the prison’s not a dystopian city but rather an extensively fenced area just outside of Texas called Comfort. Once you’re dropped off in the bad batch boondocks – all dust, parched thistles, and perpetual danger – you’re made to fend for yourself.
We’re not so sure why society’s decided that Arlen’s such an undesirable abomination. To us, her worst crimes are her handful of fatuous tats (at one point, she proudly reveals a cartoon cherry stamp on her left breast) and a belief that Hawaii and Cuba are just a couple feet from one another. She’s jejune, sure, but since when was that against the law?
But we needn’t bother question her outcast status in The Bad Batch: here, Arlen’s a quietly belligerent sister of, say, Beatrix Kiddo. You can put her through hell all you want, but you'd better be prepared for the fact that she’s going to fight back.
In The Bad Batch, we watch as Arlen journeys through this central wasteland, put in peril so regularly that there comes a point where she seems about as little fazed by the prospects of assault and/or murder as co-star Momoa might have when asked to bulk up for the role of Aquaman. In Amirpour’s shagged version of an unforgiving America, once you’ve comfortably established yourself, there’s no point in dwelling on the anxieties that come with contemplating the future.
Aesthetically, The Bad Batch is a sort of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), Mad Max (1979), and Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004) knot. But thematically is it spiked with topical themes of alienation and of being declared an unmentionable outsider and still managing to overcome the odds. It’s slightly uneasy in execution (say it’s a semi-successful allegory for the fight against Trump’s America), yet I wolfed it down. Amirpour’s young directorial hand is so remarkably assured and so much her own (and so unlike the lotion-soft ones of her similarly saucer-eyed peers), I couldn’t stop myself from wanting to bask in the gory glory of her cockeyedly comedic, confidently idiosyncratic vision.
Certainly, the film borrows from a great many other (better) movies, and it’s less original than her breakout movie, the novel, black-and-white horror show A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014). But it is, notwithstanding its pretty-plentiful languor (two hours is awful long for a movie so quiescent and without narrative direction), a thrillingly offbeat delight. It’s a barmy, sometimes funny voyage of mayhem that betters the more we grow accustomed to its strangeness.
A second viewing might warrant further delights (the movie does, after all, seem primed for cult status given how much it leans toward the kooky). But then again, I could see it becoming a cheekily violent and progressively whimsical memory that improves the longer it sticks around in the brain and becomes kind of romanticized. B+
This review also appeared on Verge Campus.