Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour entered the indie film scene with her festival darling, 2014’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, a deadpan, moody vampire romance with style to burn and a soundtrack to die for. The film was a subversive blend of Sergio Leone and Jim Jarmusch, and while Amirpour doubles down on the former in her new film, The Bad Batch, there is an inscrutability and willful listlessness that runs throughout the film, harkening back to the latter’s entire oeuvre. But filmic signposts aside, Amirpour’s latest film is a beautiful and shambling Western, plus it has cannibalism and machine gun-wielding pregnant women.
Set in the (increasingly believable) near future, the film opens with Arlen (Waterhouse) being processed and marked (via numeric neck tattoo) before being shoved out into the Texas (postapocalyptic?) wastelands, the high, barbed wire fence shut behind her, a jug of water and a bag of fast-food in her hands. Arlen’s crime goes unstated, but she has become one of the Bad Batch, an exile in a lawless land. She’s maybe a couple hours into wandering the desert when she is captured by cannibals and her right arm and leg are sawed off. Chained up for future meals, she resourcefully makes her escape using a combination of shit, rebar, and a skateboard (Amirpour loves her skateboards), and then finds help in the form of a hermit (Carrey), who brings her to Comfort, a community run by The Dream (Reeves, who seems to relish these super creepy supporting roles. His mustache/sunglasses combo alone is worth the ticket price). Arlen gets a gun and goes looking for revenge and winds up fostering the child of the cannibals’ leader Miami Man (Momoa). From there, paths begin to converge, side trips are taken, acid is dropped, and the too-cool-for-school soundtrack keeps pumping out the jams.
Visually, the film is a kaleidoscopic pastiche of society’s debris, thanks to production designer Brandon Tonner-Connolly. The frame is filled with all manner of eccentric ephemera (my favorite being a “Hang in there!” kitten painting, where the cat is clinging for life above a sea of flames). Amirpour could have reined in her penchant for laconic coolness at times, but where’s the fun in that? This fractured fairy tale of the marginalized have-nots and the bonds they forge continues the director’s obsession for the genre films she grew up with while adding her own contemporary sensibilities, and the result is an ultimately satisfying journey. My only regret is that I will never hear Ace of Base’s “All That She Wants” the same way again.
For our interview with Ana Lily Amirpour, see "Cannibals, Cult Leaders, and Friendship," June 23.
Copyright © 2022 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.