If we all accept the idea that we fall short of being our ideal selves most of the time then we can probably also agree that it is a miracle society has made it this far. The world may seem to be tearing itself apart right now, but nevertheless we are a global society of humans with systems in place to help us organize, communicate, and cover basic needs. Even when things are at their darkest there is still an element of hope found in your being with your fellow humans, but what if that were no the case? What if, in a world where society as we know it has been removed from the equation, we were reduced to nothing more than wild animals warring wth one another over a finite amount of supplies? Could we suppress our primal instincts long enough to achieve a peaceful interconnectivity, or would we watch the world burn? Ana Lily Amirpour’s new film The Bad Batch suggests the latter is most likely, but it never fully writes off the power of love.
Suki Waterhouse stars as Arlen, a young women who is forced into a desert wasteland where Texas once existed sometime in the near future. This land lies beyond the reach of US law, stretching for miles and miles with only dirt and brush filling the space. The only towns are small groupings of makeshift shelters inhabited by those considered not fit for the modern world. The lack of resources has turned everyone in cannibals, which is a revelation we learn after Arlen has her right arm and leg removed not long after the film begins. She eventually escapes, even managing to find a prosthetic leg in the process, but ultimately has nowhere to go. She, like everyone else roaming the wretched land that surrounds her, is lost with nothing to do except fight to live another day.
The only respite Arlen can find is in the shanty town of Comfort, which is run by a mysterious cult leader called The Dream (brought to life by Keanu Reeves). The people of Comfort don’t have it any better than anyone else, but at night they gather for drug-fueled EDM ragers where those identified as undesirables by the rest of the world can shed their shame and be free. Arlen stays here and eventually meets a strong, strange man of few words with ‘Miami Man’ tattooed across his chest (played by Jason Mamoa). Together the two develop a strange relationship that alters the course of their journeys through the vast wasteland around them, often without either one uttering a single line of dialogue.
An incredibly well-crated prologue helps to quickly establish the world and all its eccentricities, but after Arlen experiences The Dream and his drug-fueled world perspective the film downshifts on the action front so that it can explore more existential concepts. Arlen and Miami Man become less concerned with seeking an immediate resolution to their problems and instead settle into the longterm nature of the predicament. There is no escaping their surroundings, nor does there appear to be some kind of savior on the horizon will provide proper nourishment to the outcast masses. If they want to survive they will have to give in to their id and hope that they do not lose a piece of themselves in the process.
Like A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Amirpour’s explosive 2014 debut film, The Bad Batch is a non-traditional story told in an impressionistic way. If you spend your entire time watching and following only the events unfolding on screen you miss more than half of what Amirpour is trying to accomplish. In fact, if The Bad Batch has one fatal flaw its an abundance of ideas coupled with an inability to properly explore them. There are elements of Aliens, Mad Max, and even the work of John Hughes at play, as well as observations both subtle and direct on the nature of man, morality, the importance of knowing where your fecal matter goes, and the value of life. All this, in a movie that features no less than two raves and one extended sequence where a visibly high Arlen ponders the beauty of the universe while Amirpour fills the screen with stars. It’s a lot to take in.
The Bad Batch is the kind of art film that assumes you know it is an art film, and by that I mean it never stops long enough to explain anything and it doesn’t care if you ‘get it’ or not. This is proven through the movie’s Jackson Pollock like approach to introducing ideas, which finds Amirpour throwing whatever will stick into the mix until the mix is so thick it you cannot possibly add anything more. Fortunately for her, this approach keeps things interesting and engaging even when the core narrative begins to suffer from a series of inexplicable decisions by seemingly every major character in the film’s third act. Amirpour understands that our behavior and perspective is not shaped by a singular influence, but rather the sum of everything happening around us all the time. She takes this into consideration both with her characters and her audience, exposing them to a wide variety of moments and sensations to mirror the chaos and uncertainty that is existence. This approach was clear with her debut work and it is present once again here, albeit with messier results. I do not know if a single viewing would be enough to take in everything Amirpour wishes to share, but fortunately for her and us there is more than enough here to warrant return visits.