Cinematic Releases: The Bad Batch (2017) - Reviewed

Ana Lily Amirpour's sophomore feature is a potent cocktail of layered social commentary and brutal, divisive violence.  A dystopian walkabout by way of a Millennial manifesto, The Bad Batch, is an entrancing story about connection, consumption, and exploitation.  Featuring acid trip visuals, a pop culture drenched soundtrack, and a unique gallery of endearing and repulsive personas, Amirpour's second offering lacks the structural integrity of her debut, but compensates for this deficiency with complex imagery and uncomfortable truths about the human condition.  

Arlen is deemed one of the "Bad Batch" and exiled from the United States to a desert wasteland beyond the walls of civilized humanity.  Her odyssey of violence, love, and acceptance puts her into conflict with merchants of flesh, both those who seek to consume it and those who would control it.  Suki Waterhouse's central performance is one of the year's best surprises.  In a time when overcompensation and operatic commitment dominate awards season, this is a simplistic, restrained, and wonderfully embodied turn.  Waterhouse's ability to communicate the wheel of emotions, from solemn understanding to basic human hatred, is the crux of the film.  Amirpour's script relies heavily on visuals, without support from explanatory monologues, and while the middle act of the film delves into the surreal, Arlen's plight and her ultimate intentions are never in question due to Waterhouse’s intriguing portrayal.  

She is supported by Jason Momoa who gives an interesting performance as the cannibal potentate, Miami Man. While many viewers have no doubt become accustomed to seeing Momoa shirtless, Amirpour twists the convention of physicality into a warning sign for those who would eat you piece by piece, as the bodybuilding savages are outlawed from the sanctuary of the piecemeal community Comfort.  Comfort's ruler is The Dream, a creepy Keanu Reeves in one of his best performances.  There's a remarkable exchange between Reeves and Waterhouse that not only outlines the incomprehensible evil of Reeves' Dream, but also defines the disconnect between the Boomers and Millennials, using the extreme plausibility of a world gone mad to showcase a bifurcated society at its absolute worst.

jason momoa
I'm just looking for some fish to talk to. 

Jim Carrey gives one is his best turns as a mute hermit who wanders the wastes, saving the lives of several characters through chance, ingenuity, and unmerciful pragmatism.  His sunburned Charon ferries the Bad Batch across a river of dust, one of the films many mythological references.  While Reeves' social media Zeus is protected by a harem of armed (and pregnant) concubines, Giovanni Ribisi's mad prophet imparts delirious portents and nonsensical confessions to psychedelic bacchanal.  This is the film's greatest flaw.  There's almost too much to digest in a single viewing, which could easily have the effect of turning away an unsuspecting viewer.  The plot is skin deep and the roles are ill defined, with Amirpour trying to find common ground between the Angels and Demons of her LSD wonderland, and this idea will either rebuke or inspire.  The Bad Batch is an ambiguous exploration of a thoughts and prayers purgatory, where the only thing of value is flesh.  While the cannibals use it as sustenance. The Dream peddles it as a form of control and immortality, ensuring generations of would-be protectors for years to come.  However, Amirpour throws a final theme of companionship into the mix with an awkward love story that doesn't quite work…until it does.   

Lyle Vincent's cinematography captures the two worlds of the film in stark contrast.  The baked, used-up realm of the desert is filled with wide shots of lonely vistas and discarded memories of the world that left the Batch behind while the nighttime interior shots of Comfort are neon lit fever dreams.  Undulating bodies writhe under black lights while the Dream passes out drugs and proselytizes about the importance of his ideals.  The soundtrack features a plethora of well placed, if a tad campy, songs that keep with the fantasy vibe. The Bad Batch is a place where the dials are turned up so high; it’s hard to focus on any one thing as Arlen completes her murky sojourn.  Natalie O'Brien's costume is another excellent addition, giving each of its main characters a distinct appearance that also feels right at home in the bloody sand.  

In select theaters now and available on digital on demand, The Bad Batch is one of the first truly divisive films of 2017.   Controversy over violence to minority characters led to an uncomfortable exchange with the director and a viewer at a live Q & A in Chicago.  Many critics have cited the plot's lack of depth as a major flaw, while others have praised the visuals and performances.  The Bad Batch begins with its heroine experiencing unthinkable trauma and then slowly explores her personal crucible in which her injuries become unexpected strengths.  The idea of several thousand people being relegated to a lawless, open air prison seems farfetched, but when taken in context of world where simulated connections are on everyone's hips, the idea of exile from the herd is not only terrifying, but also helps to define the core of The Bad Batch's message, which is ultimately about finding peace with one’s place, no matter where life takes you.  We all have our tribes and The Bad Batch is a blistering reminder that home and family are all about perspective. 


-Kyle Jonathan