By combining retro pop music and classic, practical bits of post-apocalyptic set design, writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour delivers a super cool flick. “The Bad Batch” is a distinct vision not of the future or anything approximating our reality, rather it’s the product of a filmmaker’s dream that understands that inside the camera anything can happen.
Set exclusively upon a striking, arid desert landscape, Amirpour places a brutal and colorful set of characters. We begin with an attractive bad girl named Arien (Suki Waterhouse) escorted by police into a fenced off region of Texas, which acts as a kind of prison complex. She’s a sexy, tattooed vixen, who has been designated as one of the “bad batch.” One gets the impression that she may have committed a crime or has just run afoul of the genetic or social standards of some future existence.
Once trapped in this fenced wasteland, Arien is captured and chained up by a clan of cannibals. In a particularly visceral sequence, teased and arguably spoiled in the film’s trailers, one of her arms and one of her legs are sawed off. Hence, Arien must escape her captors by rolling roughly across the desert on her back using a skateboard.
Arien fortunately receives help from a hermit (played by Jim Carrey), who takes her to a desert town named Comfort. The town is remarkably civil, primarily due to the repression of a mysterious leader called The Dream (Keanu Reeves). A cult figure, The Dream surrounds himself with an army of attractive women, many pregnant and brandishing automatic weapons. One day, while scouring through a garbage dump, Arien encounters a child named Honey (Jayda Fink), who is accompanied by her cannibal caretaker. In time, Arien becomes Honey’s new caretaker, and The Dream takes an unsavory notice.
It’s impossible to describe the story without revealing too much. Jason Momoa plays a critical role as a cannibal leader called Miami Man. His performance is reminiscent of his work on an early season of “Game of Thrones.” Momoa is a very good actor, with impressive physicality and bearing, both of which are used extremely well here. Amirpour understands that she has been granted a wonderful cast with which to manipulate in unusual and interesting ways.
“The Bad Batch” is more an image factory than a coherent narrative feature. Multiple viewings may reveal some deeper meaning. I especially liked the odd relationship between Miami Man and Arien and what that means for Honey and the reason for or efficacy of cannibalism.
Yes, cannibalism is a theme that clearly is an over-the-top metaphor for both meat consumption and the harshness of human nature. One sequence in particular brashly shows a slaughter followed by matter of fact butchery. And as shocking as these images are, one can’t help but think about Netflix’ recent “Okja” as Miami Man efficiently carves up various cuts. It is as repulsive as it is thought-provoking.
Shades of classic science fiction ripple through Amirpour’s film. I was happily reminded of L.Q. Jones well regarded “A Boy and His Dog.” But as Amirpour gets the style and tone exactly right, she manages to imprint her own ideas into the film raising many questions that will be debated for years to come. The result is one of the most experimental, widely available and popularized movies in years.