It’s common, while watching Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch, to have the thought, “yep, I just saw that.” This statement could refer to a number of things. It could refer to brief moments of intense gore, ridiculously beautiful cinematography, or bemusement at the sheer camp stumbled upon in an otherwise brutal and dry story.
You could call The Bad Batch a survivalist movie. You could call it a cautionary tale. You could call it a love story, though I’m personally ambivalent towards that reading. It’s a terribly simple movie that’s also terribly strange. If Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night was Iranian noir, then The Bad Batch is sunburnt Americana — the most cliché American characteristics stretched out to their maximum and stripped down to their basest levels.
At its core, The Bad Batch is about Arlene (model-turned-actress Suki Waterhouse) getting cast out into the desert as one of ‘the Bad Batch’, people deemed not rich, healthy, contributing or just good enough for America. Once in the desert, she’s immediately kidnapped by cannibals and loses an arm and a leg to their meals. She escapes, is found by a scavenger and brought to a makeshift town called Comfort, where other Bad Batch castoffs try to survive with the help of The Dream (a cultish Keanu Reeves.)
Those in Comfort are fuelled by The Dream’s drugs and his nighttime desert raves. Comfort is filled with satirical images America — from the raver decked out in a Statue of Liberty costume to a one-legged pole dancer wearing a big t-shirt with an American flag bikini on it. Everywhere there are signs referring to The Dream, be it the drug or the man — clear references to The American Dream —, that pointed fingers at America, saying “this is what you want” or “this is who you are.” It’s not subtle, but little in this movie is, save for the sparse use of dialogue, something I’m beginning to consider as an Amirpour technique, just like her long takes and rack focus.
In the first twenty minutes of the film, barely any words are said. The audience is left to parse through what they can see to try and figure out what the hell is going on and why people are being forced out into the desert. While hosting a rave, The Dream paints a clearer picture of a post-apocalyptic world that likely doesn’t have the resources for its entire population. The survivalist aspect of the film combined with the desert setting does give off a Western vibe, much like A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night did. Both films have female protagonists, in place of a John Wayne type of character, battling their enemies and they are neither perfect nor nice. They are both killers and they are both alone. Or at least, they’re alone until a guy steps in.
When I was first looking into the film, I saw that it was described as a love story. This was confusing to me both before and after watching the movie. The love story here is one between Arlen and one of the cannibals, Miami Man (Jason Momoa trying out a Spanish accent for a cuban character). Arlen and Miami Man are brought together by Miami Man’s search for his daughter, Honey, who was taken by The Dream after Arlen brought her to Comfort. Momoa is as brooding and hunky as ever, and maybe I’m just traditional, but I would be hesitant to start romancing with a fella that may or may not have eaten part of my leg for dinner.
How you want to define The Bad Batch is entirely up to you. I personally liked it. However, the two hours of a lot of walking and not a lot of talking garnered mixed reviews from the public. In that bleak desert and with so little speech, the audience is left with an uncomfortable amount of space and silence where they must sit with their thoughts. It leaves so much open to interpretation, so many questions unanswered in this short timeline that barely scratches the surface of the dystopian world it inhabits. In that space we could also find what the movie is and what it might be expected to be.
What it is not is an action-packed thriller. It is not a love story, or a comedy, or even a drama. It’s not a blockbuster, but not a complete indie-house movie either. It plays at being an examination of the human condition in dehumanizing environments when the characters themselves let so little of their person be revealed to each other, let alone the audience.
So what is The Bad Batch?
I’m viewing it more as an experiment — of what could happen in a very near future, of how we would react to something like that happening, and how we react as an audience to a movie like this that doesn’t sit comfortably into any genre and doesn’t give the audience exactly what they want.
Whether opinions on the film are good or bad, I see Amirpour as a strong directorial voice. As this is only her sophomore feature film release, I’m keen to see what else she has in store and where else she may take us.