Fantastic Fest Review: The Bad Batch
Ana Lily Amirpour gets post-apocalyptic with her second feature
By Marjorie Baumgarten,
12:00PM, Tue. Sep. 27, 2016
Ana Lily Amirpour’s follow-up to her riveting filmmaking debut, the feminist vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is this fascinating post-apocalyptic cannibal survival tale, The Bad Batch. Although a bit shaggier than her first attention-getting debut, The Bad Batch is nevertheless a compelling work.
The near-wordless opening scenes of The Bad Batch set a gripping storytelling standard that’s hard for the rest of the movie to maintain, much less surpass. The film’s central character, Arlen (the former model Suki Waterhouse), is thrust beyond the gates of America as the film opens. Branded as one of the “bad batch,” such human rejects are tattooed with a number and evicted from governed society. There’s nothing but West Texas desert and dry badlands as far as her eye can see. She walks and walks, depletes her water rations, and stops in an abandoned car to fix her makeup, where she is captured by hunters from the cannibalistic Bridge People. Back at camp, she is chained while waiting for her limbs to be cut off and cooked for mealtime. An arm, and then a leg, are both horrifically cauterized with the flat end of a frying pan. Yet Arlen figures a way to squirm away from her predicament and back out into the desert, where she is picked up by the mute vagabond scavenger (played by an unrecognizable Jim Carrey) who carries her away in a shopping cart.
These opening 20 minutes or so are just astonishing that little that follows has nearly the same impact. Next, Arlen lands in the community of Comfort, where the survivors are meat-eaters but not cannibals. She heals, gains a prosthetic leg (but why not an arm, as well?), and begins to figure out her surroundings. Fortified Comfort is overseen by the Dream (an also unrecognizable Keanu Reeves), who keeps the masses tripping out on acid and electronica (DJ’d by Diego Luna, who has too little to do here). Subplots vaguely form, a little girl enters the picture, while her father, beefy Miami Man (Jason Momoa), is on her trail. Portions of the film drag somewhat during these portions, and two scenes by Giovanni Ribisi as a babbling pseudo-fount of knowledge are intriguing but pointless.
With her second feature (and a much bigger budget), Amirpour proves that she's still a filmmaker to watch. Even if The Bad Batch calls to mind the post-apocalyptic landscape of Mad Max, Amirpour’s visual sensibility remains strikingly unique. This film’s production design (by Brandon Tonner-Connolly) is full of delightful details and desolate deprivations. Appearing in nearly every scene, Waterhouse also shows herself to be a stirring screen presence. The Bad Batch may be short a few pints in the story department, but the film has precious vital fluids pumping through its guts.