Two years ago Jill and I reviewed A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, one of the best films I’ve ever seen. While Jill has a brief hiatus after her trip (back to business as usual next week), I thought I’d weigh in on AGWHAAT director Ana Lily Amirpour‘s second feature length film, The Bad Batch.
This movie appears to have very much split opinion, as some of the best ones do but the question is, is it actually any good?
*Some spoilers, but they’ll be accidental*
The Bad Batch (2016)
A love story set in a community of cannibals in a future dystopia. In a desert wasteland in Texas, a muscled cannibal breaks one important rule: don’t play with your food.
In Amirpour’s dystopian universe, there’s a group of people referred to as The Bad Batch. Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is one of them for an undisclosed reason. The movie opens with her being tattooed with a number and then dumped into a fenced-in area just outside Texas.
This is, according to a sign on the fence, soil no longer considered part of America and therefore US laws do not apply here. This can only be a bad scene, man.
No sooner has Arlen been dropped off, she runs into some trouble with two dudes in a golf cart (men: always there to fuck up your life). She wakes after being captured to find herself in chains, and then things get really bad for her. Turns out her new friends are cannibals and they’re only interested in one thing.
The cannibal community seems to thrive on this meat heavy diet as for the most part they’re all oiled and buff body builder types. And none are more muscular than Miami Man (Jason Momoa) who appears to rule the roost, with his young daughter in tow.
Arlen, meanwhile isn’t fairing too well and with missing limbs, is in a precarious position. She’s not the kind of girl to sit around for long though so she fights her way out of Cannibal Camp. Just before she gets pecked to death by ravenous crows, she’s found by Hermit (see if you can guess who plays him) and is dropped off at a placed called Comfort.
Five months later and Arlen is still living at Comfort, a sort of Mad Max-style festival/commune where she’s been given a prosthetic leg. She’s not happy but she is in better shape than she was a few months back.
One day, while exploring, she bumps into one of the cannibals scavenging in a trash heap. Unfortunately for this cannibal, she’s one of the crew who took Arlen’s arm and leg, so it doesn’t end happily. With her is Miami Man’s kid and Arlen takes her back to Comfort.
At a rave later on, Comfort’s creator The Dream (a gorgeously seedy Keanu Reeves) makes a speech to the crowd and the Comfort community go wild. It’s like how I imagine Coachella is, it’s so damn photogenic. Arlen, in her blissed-out state (DRUGS), quickly loses sight of the kid and goes on a solo jaunt to the desert.
Here she bumps into an unsmiling Miami Man, who’s been frantically searching for his kid since she disappeared. During Arlen’s acid trip they seem to share a moment but the harsh morning light brings her down with a bump. Miami Man kidnaps her and forces her back towards Comfort where Hermit has told her the kid is. He threatens to kill Arlen if she doesn’t do as she’s told.
(Even though Jason Momoa is easily the most beautiful looking man on this planet I’m still reeling from some of his rape comments, made in 2011 and which I’ve only just heard about (this thread is an interesting read). And although I’m sure he’s not a rape apologist, I’m not quite ready to declare him unproblematic. In some ways my disappointment in him feeds into my dislike of his character, who’s an evil woman-killing cannibal).
Anywho. Miami Man’s quest to find his daughter, the only thing he loves, is not paved with good fortune. As he and Arlen become uneasy travelling companions – and maybe something more – shit hits the fan again. Arlen finds herself back at Comfort, which is anything but to her, though she’s now feeling guilty having learned how much the kid means to her father. So she starts off on her own quest to find her – and if luck will allow it, plans to deliver her back home.
This is a two-hour film so none of what transpires throughout is the most speedy. Arlen spends some one-on-one time with The Dream who reveals more about Comfort as a business operation. He also knows of the whereabouts of the kid, who’s being taken care of by The Dream’s harem of beautiful ladies.
I guess the question on everybody’s lips is, will father and daughter be reunited? Will this story, described as a romantic black comedy horror-thriller have the happy ending Arlen is now hoping for?
Is everything as bleak as it seems in this land that humanity has forgotten?
Don’t be in any doubt, this is a long film and it meanders at its own place. However, I genuinely loved it.
It’s beautiful looking with some stunning cinematography. The setting, although bleak, has a Fury Road (by way of the already mentioned Coachella) aesthetic that is hard to resist – and like Furiosa, Arlen has a burning desire to get out of her situation, by any means necessary.
Although this is a love story in part, it’s never gratuitous, most of the feeling is left unsaid. Arlen doesn’t need a man to take care of her but she wants one and that’s okay. We all have the right to love and be loved by another, even in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
At times this is gruesome, sometimes it’s slow but the atmosphere is thick. I just wanted Arlen to make it. There’s a scene about half way through that nearly broke my heart. Although Arlen is tough and keen on survival, she also has a vulnerability about her that makes her just like any other young woman.
As our central protagonist, Suki Waterhouse carries this film on her lovely shoulders and that is no mean feat. She’s obviously a total hottie but she can also act. Get it girl.
4/5. Amirpour forever. Can’t wait to see what she does next.
We’ll also be talking about The Bad Batch on All Out of Bubblegum in the next few weeks, so keep an ear out for that.