THE BAD BATCH Review
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Genre Sci-Fi, Action, Western
How does one follow up a debut as daring and outspoken as A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT? The short answer: you probably can’t. Director Ana Lily Amirpour set an incredibly high bar with her low-budget Sundance darling: a film set in Iran, shot in California, and bursting with a feminine energy that had nearly been all but absent in Iranian cinema (Samira Makhmalbaf and Tahmineh Milani notwithstanding). It was a sexy, energetic, vampire romance. A twisted, abnormal picture. And it marked Amirpour as a young voice to be reckoned with, somebody who recognized that Iran deserved a genre picture, but one brimming with the poetic energy of its national cinema. So it pains me to say that her sophomore feature, THE BAD BATCH, is a groan-worthy attempt at sociopolitical commentary, despite winning the acclaimed special jury prize at 2016’s Venice Film Festival.
Amirpour’s latest starts off strong. It’s an assured firing on all cylinders, a film that runs like grindhouse clockwork. Unashamed would be the word of choice here, both to its benefit and its detriment. It’s a pip-boy away from FALLOUT fanfiction, and it frankly boasts the narrative potency of your average video game. Pardon me, that’s really a disservice to some of the great games out there, but you get the idea. After the film’s brutal opening by way of our protagonist getting her arm and leg sawed off and eaten by south Texan cannibals, we should pretty much know what we’re in for. THE BAD BATCH pitches itself as somewhat of a sci-fi western, a reformist take on genres we’ve seen time and time again, but it’s held back by its own ego. This film thinks it’s real clever, and it suffers for it greatly. It’s a bit of a revenge tale, a biting political commentary, and a desert romance. But that’s also where the first problems occur: Amirpour’s film is so many things, and I don’t think it really knows what it wants to stick with.
John Wick’s porn star alter ego, John Dic—fuck this, I hate writing captions
Suki Waterhouse plays Arlen, our one-legged, one-armed heroine, a reject of modern society, outcast to live in the tundra of America’s southern border. Jason Momoa plays Miami Man, a Cuban hombre destined to fight for the safety of his daughter (he’s also a cannibal, but more on that later). Finally, Keanu Reeves rounds out the ensemble as The Dream—the closest thing a desert-set post-apocalypse can get to literally casting Immortan Joe without facing a copyright infringement suit. I’ll admit that it might be slightly unfair to make this comparison if THE BAD BATCH was already under production before MAD MAX: FURY ROAD’s release, but that doesn’t keep it from registering as a lesser incarnation of George Miller’s feminist opus. At the end of the day, it’s still a film about the patriarchy financially and physically dominating women in the desert.
The key players all do the bare minimum to keep THE BAD BATCH afloat. Waterhouse commands the screen with the grace of a 21st century pseudo-hippie, the type of valley girl who anxiously awaits her fourth trip to Coachella. She’s dumb, vengeful, but surprisingly resourceful—like that one time Abbie from down the road lost her friends on the festival grounds and found her way back to Sherman Oaks by hitchhiking. Jason Momoa’s casting stands out like a sore thumb. Why the native Hawaiian was chosen to play a Cuban immigrant seems oddly misguided. Amirpour’s political agenda is clear as day, especially in her depiction of social divisions and class structure, so why not actually cast a native Cuban to bring her point home? I could go on about the complete underutilization of Jim Carrey, but there’s no point nitpicking when there are much more serious problems abound.
MFW THE NUMBER 23 flopped
I appreciate Amirpour’s commitment to detail. It’s fantastic that THE BAD BATCH shot in Slab City and used actual locals to enrich its world (not to mention the solid practical effect work). There’s something about capitalizing on an actual community that have distanced themselves from the system that ultimately aids the film’s anti-establishment message. My problem is that it’s so transparent. I get it: it’s about how society is eating one another. It’s about how we shouldn’t let our differences divide us. It’s about how we should stand up to the system that propagates our inhumanity. But if those are the thematics you want to channel, why go with the most obvious angle? The ingenuity of A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT was its simplicity. Using a burqa as a stand-in for a vampire’s cloak is an ingenious reclamation of an item built to undermine women. No such ingenuity exists here. In fact, THE BAD BATCH can’t help escape its trappings as grindhouse entertainment, and once it really tries to by getting political, it feels egregiously try hard.
And that’s the real problem here. THE BAD BATCH is arguably the most juvenile, edgelord dreck I’ve seen since DEADPOOL. Some might see this as a commendation, others as the reddest of flags. Whatever the case, it’s well-meaning, and quite courageous in an indie climate chock full with the umpteenth hipster dramedy, but it’s also painfully obvious. Of course a film about cannibals takes place in a desert wasteland. Of course a film about self discovery uses hallucinogens to bring our character out of her comfort zone. It’s a film that rolls with its aesthetic, and delivers some solid, albeit trite, imagery, but no amount of visual panache can salvage a thematically redundant arthouse film. I would jokingly remark that THE BAD BATCH feels like the childish manifestation of a 20-something’s excursion to Burning Man. Unfortunately, that’s exactly how Amirpour came up with the idea. It’s exactly the acid trip your lying buddy in middle school claimed he had after a wild weekend visiting his brother at college. It’s not smart, it’s not elevated, but at least it tried. For what it’s worth, Amirpour is still a voice worth tracking, but she needs to keep things personal because she’s not a particularly exciting societal observer.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend