The Bad Batch

Directed by: Ana Lily Amirpour

Written by: Ana Lily Amirpour

Starring: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Jayda Fink, Giovanni Ribisi, Diego Luna

I’m going to be up front.  I have not seen Ana Lily Amirpour’s freshman directorial effort, A Girl Walks Alone at Night.  This set me up for her sophomore effort, The Bad Batch with no expectations.  No worldly experience I’ve had could have truly prepared me for this film

Although Amirpour’s script doesn’t define what time this story is set, we know that society has gotten tough on crime; enough that a crime will see you banished to the most hellacious place on earth.  The film opens up with no visuals, only voices coming from all directions.  We’re meant to be disoriented as her prison ID is tattooed on Arlen, who we learn really quickly can defend herself.

But, how do we survive in a desert wasteland?

Armed with only a few days-worth of rations and a flyer guiding her to “Comfort,” Arlen sets out on her journey.  Before we can discover what “Comfort” is, she is ambushed by two of her fellow inmates, literally paying the price for letting her guard down; something she learns not to do again.

Amirpour’s script is full of visual details brought to life through Lyle Vincent’s camerawork, which is first rate.  As we struggle to get our bearings, whether in the deep desert, the airplane shell that makes up someone’s home, or within the confines of Comfort, his use of the 2.39:1 frame paints a wide, desolate image, conveying all of our characters’ struggles.  The tracking shots alone are worth the price of admission.

What’s most interesting is the characters and how they are used to convey the true nature of the film, the “haves” and “have-nots”.  Deeper than that, each actor’s nuance, body language, and several well-placed pop music tracks help to convey their status in life.  Dialogue is kept to a minimum.

Suki Waterhouse was perfectly cast as Arlen.  Though she had to be more upright and determined than her real-life persona, she is the perfect foil for Jason Momoa and his Miami Man character, someone you would not want to cross: he means business.  His number one priority is his daughter Honey, played by Jayda Fink.  When she disappears, we are made to realize that he will stop at nothing to find her all with looks.  Arlen and Miami Man’s situations very much lead them down the proverbial Adam and Eve path.

Two other main characters in the film, the Hermit, who is the audience’s silent guide, is played by Jim Carrey.  He disappeared into his role so much, that the first time I saw the movie, I couldn’t recognize him; he is that good.  Giovanni Ribisi plays The Screamer, who is imprisoned like the rest of the inmates, but his imprisonment is in his mind as much as his environment; stuck trying to remember what life was like on the outside, searching for freedom while being the life of the party, going with the flow.

This leaves us with Keanu Reeves’s character, the very visage of Hugh Heffner, right down to the pipe and the robe, The Dream.  In an eloquent manifesto, The Dream asks Arlen who provides the plumbing, to which she answers, “you do.” The Dream is the one who makes Comfort possible, he makes us forget our cares and worries, and releases us from our internal imprisonment; The Dream will take care of our needs, even laying the seed for future dreamers.  Reeve’s take on the character, though convincing, is far too much of a parody of Heffner to be taken seriously.

A lot of the narrative is implied, not directed toward the audience; something very rarely seen these days.  For some, this might stretch the boundaries Amirpour intended. The marriage of the visuals and the pop tracks convey characters’ emotions so effectively, that we don’t need the dialogue.  Does the film drag as a result of it?  Perhaps.  The film starts out very strongly and wanes towards the end.

Drawing from Escape From New York and Mad Max,  Amirpour’s style is fresh, achieving the black comedic effect she was going for.  Both films present dystopian images of one possible future, using visuals to convey their points where the “haves” and “have nots” fight over every last resource.  Here, the characters are just as much a part of the film’s fabric as are the visuals.

Now in a limited theatrical release, on VUDU and coming soon to Netflix, Amirpour successfully delivers a taught visual feast or famine experience.

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