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There is no dismissing the arresting look and impact of director Ana Lily Amirpour‘s (A Girl Walks Home At Night) latest The Bad Batch, a caustic, authentic wasteland that hits heavy. There’s challenging imagery here and a patience in how it’s presented that certainly compels in a story that is often disjointed and ambling, unable to fuse as well as the premise makes us hope, but nonetheless intriguing for its vision.
It follows young Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) a rebellious waif who is discharged from the United States, branded, passed through a gate and into the deserts where the less accepted, least desirables are jettisoned, forced to live in the hostile landscapes of a world filled with savages. She is set up on by a group of them early on, called ‘Bridge’, a hardcore bodybuilding clan of cannibals who live in an airplane graveyard. They keep people chained to fuselages hacking off what they want to eat. They do so with Arlen as well, sawing off an arm and a leg, grilling and eating them before she bravely escapes. There, she sets off on a bizarre odyssey where she eventually comes upon a less hostile sanctuary called ‘Comfort’, ruled by sewer-controlling hipster named The Dream (Keanu Reeves) with a gun-toting harem all his own.
All of this might sound like a trippy graphic novel-esque dream project in the vain of Tank Girl meets Mad Max and assuredly, the first twenty minutes is the stuff of legends, an opening that, if given a stronger following, might have been iconic. Arlen’s release, capture, torture and escape is a near wordless nightmare of brilliance, an unrelentingly impactful piece of filmmaking that sets a tone almost impossible to maintain, even if there are several strong moments after that tiptoe near to it.
The film does little in explaining too much, simply letting the world exists where the meat-eating Bridge are armed only with blades and Comfort have all the guns. Bridge is ruled by muscle-bound Miami Man (Jason Momoa), a sadistic but art-loving immigrant who comes to find Arlen in the desert months after her escape, passed out in a drug-induced haze, she bearing a secret that forces him to level an ultimatum. An uneasy pact is formed and then … much more. But all of this in really secondary to the world it happens in, and while it might not have the scope and scale it could, is thoroughly convincing and endlessly interesting to look at, the peripherals full of gritty details.
At two hours long, padded by lengthy gaps in dialogue and action where everything is set in purposefully lethargic pace, The Bad Batch can feel a little unstable, perhaps echoing the climate of the times the films is set. It’s surely a metaphorical journey and there are stops and pauses along the way that point fingers at social criticisms, but none too sharply. Heroes and villains are separated by sinuous threads and the story is often as equally unclear, sometimes frustratingly so as it meanders along. Very well-acted and strangely beautiful in appearance, there is some lost potential here in a film that marks a solid if excessive sophomore effort from Amirpour.
Movie description: The Bad Batch is a 2017 sci-fi romance about a young woman caught in a dystopian landscape filled with cannibal savages and romance.
Director(s): Ana Lily Amirpour
Actor(s): Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Jayda Fink
Genre: Thriller, Drama