the_bad_batch_2Year: 2016
Director(s): Ana Lily Amirpour
Writer(s): Ana Lily Amirpour
Region of Origin: US

Rating: Unrated
Digital, Color, 118 mins

Synopsis: A dystopian love story in a Texas wasteland and set in a community of cannibals. (Source)

You don’t just watch Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch, it seeps into your soul, playing out like a neon-hued fantasia that’s as gritty as it is graceful. It’s also rendered with a rare kind of romanticism for humanity, centering around a community of outcasts and their struggle for survival against all odds. Cannibalism is rampant amidst this dust-swept wasteland, one strewn with broken dreams and glittering pop music – and yet, there’s an innocence and affection to Amirpour’s characters that’s hypnotic and full of hope. It all amounts to a twisted, surreal nightmare we don’t quite want to wake up from.

Just south of Texas, a huge wall has been erected. The other side of this wall houses the Bad Batch inmates, people who, for whatever reason have deemed undesirable and deported to this barren desert of rotting ephemera. Here, everyone is left to fend for themselves, with multiple communities fighting for resources. Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is the newest member of the batch, and totally unprepared for it. As soon as she’s escorted past the border, she’s taken hostage and mutilated for food by a member of the cannibalistic Bridge People. In a daring bid for survival, she manages to escape, and is taken in by the town of Comfort, which houses a few mysteries of its own. After an act of retribution puts her in the care of a mysterious child, she sets into play a series of events, trying to earn herself a new beginning.

In essence, Amirpour’s created a story about forgotten outsiders with nothing or no-one but each other. At its center is a vivid social metaphor, amplifying a dog-eat-dog mentality but also an unsaid bond of survival. Using a very slow, dreamlike pace that glides rather than sprints, Amirpour finds depth through the personalities and environments on display, most of which were actually filmed amidst the makeshift community of California’s Slab City (even using real residents to blend fact and fiction). Though there’s a savagery that coats the film, it’s contrasted by poignant visual poetry and the idea that life finds a way, even in the shadow of a broken America. Without a doubt, this is an unclassifiable piece of art, using a desert odyssey to explore how we create our own reality to deal with the horrors around us. It’s also a keen reflection of social dissonance and adaptation, illustrating the numerous things we take for granted on a daily basis, and how meaningless physical beauty and materialism are in the true scope of things.

the_bad_batch_1Bringing the film’s peculiar world to life, is a cast who surprises at every turn. As Arlen, Suki Waterhouse helps to subvert the idea of a common heroine. She’s thrust into a world that’s unforgiving, and Waterhouse gives her a nuance that makes her feel relatable, but retains a lot of mystery. She does a great job at giving her character an internal struggle that simmers just below the surface, acting with restraint and a pinch of awe. Jason Momoa’s flesh-eating immigrant, Miami Man, is another way to cast against type. Totally ripped and always carrying an over-sized butcher knife, he gives his character a sensitivity that totally betrays his hardened exterior. Replete with a harsh, Cuban accent, the guy is really charismatic, also portraying someone who is fighting with their feelings, but totally pragmatic. As Comfort’s enigmatic defacto leader, Dream, Keanu Reeves adds another unique role to his body of work. Naturally aloof and with perpetually cold-delivery, he’s an atypical source of conflict. Reeves is calm and collected, and though what he’s doing is pretty horrifying, he makes it seem dangerously okay. Jim Carrey steals a few scenes as a Hermit, wandering the space between The Bridge and Comfort, he sports cardboard glasses and is near-unrecognizable, while Giovanni Ribisi and the young Jayda Fink (as the Miami Man’s daughter) round things out with minimal, yet textural roles.

The Bad Batch is grueling yet beautiful, a sensory experience that never conforms to what we expect of it. From its dream logic, to the way it subverts our idea of beauty and romance, Armipour’s latest defiantly dances to its own rhythm. Part horror film, love story and drama about disenfranchised rejects, the film finds truth in fiction. I already can’t wait to see it again, and you should too – on the biggest, loudest screen possible.

SG