Suki Waterhouse as Arlen
Jason Momoa as Joe
Keanu Reeves as The Dream
Ana Lily Amirpour
Ana Lily Amirpour
Who Picked the Movie? Craig
Never has a movie broken my heart like The Bad Batch. Ana Lily Amirpour’s sophomore effort has all the ingredients in place for a subversive Mad Max riff, but never combines them in a satisfying way. Post-apocalyptic wasteland hiding thinly veiled social commentary? Check. Cannibals? Check. Keanu Reeves in full kook mode? Double check. Not to mention an unrecognizable Jim Carrey as a deus ex machina desert tramp. I will give Amirpour some credit; it must have taken an inordinate amount of energy to create a film this soporific, this banal, this clock stopping-ly slow using the ingredients presented.
The tragedy of the movie is made more so by the strength of it’s opening. With minimal dialogue the film thrusts us directly into its world and introduces us to our protagonist Arlen, played by Suki Waterhouse (in full Sulking Teenager mode.) By the 15 minute mark she has already been captured by cannibals and had her arm and leg removed and devoured. Groovy. Unfortunately the movie still has 100 minutes to go, and I’ve just describe the only thing of real note that happens.
What a great opening. Zero dialogue, but I was still all in and understood the world, the Bad Batch citizens, what they do to survive and what it takes to finally escape them. I was also really impressed by the creativity and practical effects that went into Arlen getting her arm and leg sawed off. Also liked that there was the clear distinction between the two types of people who live in these lands and what they value. The story also has a gripping hook: Arlen kills the wife of a Bad Batch cannibal in front of her daughter and then decides to keep the kid. Little does she know that the father is Miami Man, leader of the cannibals (played by Jason Momoa’s pecs), and he won’t stop until he has his daughter back.
You can go anywhere with a first act like that. You could make it a chase story like Mad Max or an odd couple on the run movie like Logan, but honestly I think Amirpour only had one act. Everything starts to come apart after the first act wraps, and you know what I never look forward to in these alt/arthouse movies? The inevitable, “deep“, drug trip sequence. Sure, better directors with more reliable actors make it memorable – thanks Danny Boyle and Darren Aronofsky – but in the hands of writers who jam it in their script when it doesn’t need to be there, it’s unearned and tacky. Don’t even get me started on the not-so-special effects. Worse, through her drug trip and eventual meet up with Miami Man and even weirder meet up with Keanu’s character, The Dream, Arlen doesn’t seem angry or sad or vindicated. She is just going through the motions.
Absolutely, this is one of the great failures of the movie. Arlen never has any agency, things just happen to her. She reacts, she never acts, she is a cypher, not a character. If this movie had been directed by a man I would say it was blatantly sexist. Maybe there is some kind of social commentary that I missed.
My question is – was there any actual social commentary? I mean Amirpour couldn’t have played with the word “Comfort” (the name of the non-cannibal town) any more if she tried, but did you find even a nugget of insight from The Dream’s conversation with Arlen in his mansion?
Also, HOLY SHIT THAT HOBO WAS JIM CARREY? Where are they getting these actors?
Let’s quickly revisit that drug sequence you mentioned, because I have to say, that was one of the most insipid, self-indulgent bits of film-making I have seen in a long time. What was the deep insight this desert bound acid trip revealed to young Arlen as she gazed adoringly into the night sky? “ Wow. So big!” That is a direct quote. It is also repeated about 42,000 times. Anyway, I digress, back to your points.
I think there is some very VERY limited social commentary in the film that isn’t so much buried as it is so obvious you can’t imagine someone thought they needed a film to spell it out. At one point Mamoa, who plays a Cuban, tells Arlen that essentially he was deported for illegally immigrating. Topical, sure, but damn is it a confusing bit of messaging to have a Hawaiian playing a Cuban with an angsty Speedy Gonzalez accent. That’s completely ignoring the fact that for decades Cubans who came to America were typically considered asylum seekers and not considered illegal immigrants.
This is certainly not the only point where Amirpour loses grip of the messaging. Her attempt to cast Reeves’ Dream as the villainous heart behind the seemingly utopian Comfort is completely unsuccessful. Even if she had been able to pull it off, what would have been the point? That sometimes things that look good aren’t so good? I think the thrice-refried theme of the movie is summed up perfectly by Arlen; “Strange isn’t it? Here we are. In the darkest corner of this Earth. And we’re afraid of our own kind.”
Allright, allright, full disclosure. I didn’t watch the whole of this meandering nonsense. I started fast forwarding right after The Dream starts laying down his bit in the mansion by the pool. The movie just couldn’t hold its own weight so I bailed. Something that I often do. But this was my pick, so it’s embarrassing. I’m gonna leave it at this: Amirpour was not prepared for this movie. I haven’t seen A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and maybe I never will, but what I do recognize is the type of directionless art film you get when you have not developed your script. Whenever I see a feature produced by Megan Ellis’ Annapurna I think to myself, “This is significant.” There is a thinking, living, breathing person with a billion dollars who wants to produce this movie for a reason. Zero Dark Thirty, Her, 20th Century Women, Foxcatcher along with a few misses for sure, but mostly intimate stories about strong characters living in a flawed world trying to be as good as they can be. Why you would hand a new director with no script millions to make this, I don’t know, but I wish that Annapurna had made anything else. Don’t watch this.
Typically I would say that skipping the end of a movie you foisted upon someone else is at best a cinematic foul, but in this case it’s right up there with blasphemy in its unpardonability! Do you know how many thousand-yard stares filmed in unbearably long close-ups I had to witness? How many conversations in which one character would inexplicably stop responding to gaze out over the desert at nothing? I actually don’t know either because I was dozing by that point so I guess that makes your sin less slightly egregious. In my defense, I don’t know how anyone could stay awake through the last 30 minutes of The Bad Batch. Everything slowly (so, so slowly) just peters out, nothing is resolved, nothing is said, nothing is gained having watched it. I honestly can’t think of a single person I could recommend this to. Hard pass.