Fitting that Ana Lily Amirpour’s first U.S. premiere for her sophomore effort would take place at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX. About five minutes in, the setting is revealed to actually be Texas, albeit a dystopian wasteland version. It’s this wasteland where lead Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is exiled as Bad Batch, society’s undesirables; those deemed unfit for modern civilization. Armed with a jug of water, Arlen sets off into the desert where she soon discovers that much of the Bad Batch has adapted to survival by means of cannibalism.
As with Amirpour’s debut, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, this film is more about the journey. A very quirky, stylized journey fitting of its own comic book series. The opening sequence that follows Arlen’s first steps into the desert quickly becomes a harrowing fight for survival as she has her first encounter with the cannibals. It creates such a strong impression of both Arlen and this new wasteland that the rest of the narrative struggles to keep up.
This isn’t really a plot driven film, though, so much as a character driven one. As interesting as this world is, the characters that Arlen encounters is what really holds your attention. Part of that is Amirpour’s ability to treat the soundtrack as its own character. The first cannibals we meet have a knack for listening to Ace of Base, and Jason Momoa’s Miami Man prefers to listen to Boy George as he prepares his latest meal. The soundtrack lends both a sense of humor and a pulse to the film. As does the supporting cast. Keanu Reeves seems meant to play The Dream, the leader of a cannibal free community with less than noble intentions. The biggest surprise of the entire film, though, is Jim Carrey as an unrecognizable drifter. His character is the most humorous, the most animated, and the most human, and he nails his dialogue free performance.
Less stellar is the leads, however. Suki Waterhouse is decent enough, but as the lead she just doesn’t yet have the strength to stand out in a cast full of high caliber talent like Reeves. For his part, Momoa effectively handles menace as well as humor as the cannibal with a secret heart of gold, but loses a lot the moment he opens his mouth to deliver dialogue. While Miami Man should give clear indication on the character’s origin, Momoa’s bizarre Scarface take on his accent undoes a lot of his performance.
This is a narrative that would have better benefitted from a little trimming somewhere in the middle. As engaging as Amirpour’s characters are, Arlen wanders a bit too long in the desert before drawing her story to a close. It’s almost as if it runs out of steam before picking up again to close out Arlen’s story.
Despite a pair of lead actors that don’t reach the same level of talent as the supporting cast and a slightly overlong running time, there’s a lot of fun to be had in The Bad Batch. There’s a quirky sense of humor at the forefront that has Amirpour’s stylistic flourishes all over it. It’s also completely unpredictable, and that’s clear the moment Arlen is first captured by cannibals. The premise reads that this is a dystopian, cannibal set love story, but I don’t think that’s an entirely accurate premise at all. This is uniquely Amirpour. Is it as strong as her first film? No. It’s not. But it’s worth experiencing nonetheless.
The Bad Batch [FF Review]