THE BAD BATCH (2017)
Review by LL Soares
I was very impressed with Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature film debut, A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014), about a lonely female vampire, wandering around a city in Iran, and I was eager to check out her follow-up, THE BAD BATCH. This is a much different kind of film, but equally impressive.
It was shown in festivals in 2016, but didn’t get a proper theatrical release until July 2017, so I’m counting it as one of this year’s films.
Like a lot of movies these days, THE BAD BATCH begins in a dystopian future, where, at a certain age, people are processed. Those considered to be part of a “bad batch” are tattooed with a number and released into the wasteland beyond a big, chain-link fence. Arlen (Suki Waterhouse, also in PUSHER, 2012, INSURGENT, 2015, and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, 2016) is one such unlucky soul, a teenage girl who suddenly finds herself alone in a vast desert. She is knocked out and wakes up in a community that looks like a trailer park, populated by cannibals. She is missing one arm and one leg, which are now being cooked for dinner.
Somehow, she’s able to outwit her captor and get away, first crawling, then using a skateboard. She’s found by a junkman, wheeling his cart along the desert, called The Hermit in the credits, who is played by Jim Carrey (I had no idea it was him until I saw the credits afterward!). He leaves her at a walled community called Comfort, where she is taken in. We next see her walking around, with one real leg and one prostethic one, and she has a semblance of a life.
One day, while out scavenging, Arlen ends up taking care of a young girl named Honey (Jayda Fink), due to events I don’t want to spoil here, and brings her back to Comfort with her. She even buys her a pet rabbit. Meanwhile, the girl’s father, a muscular and tattooed cannibal named Miami Man (Jason Mamoa, who played Khal Drago in the first season of GAME OF THRONES, and Conan in CONAN THE BARBARIAN, 2011, as well as most recently playing Aquaman in JUSTICE LEAGUE, 2017) comes looking for her.
Not only does her father want her, the girl is also coveted by a cult leader inside of Comfort who goes by the name The Dream (Keanu Reeves). He has a harem of pregnant women and has the only house with modern conveniences in the community, and he wants Honey as one of his own in a future where children appear to be rare. Arlen finds herself caught in the middle. Another familiar face is Giovanni Ribisi (also in THE OTHER SISTER, 1999, AVATAR, 2009, and TED, 2012), as a crazy guy in Comfort who walks around spouting nonsense, and whose name (in the credits) is The Screamer.
Like A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, the soundtrack makes good use of songs that add to the mood, including “Fifty on Our Foreheads” by White Lies (a band that is very prominent in A GIRL WALKS HOME AT NIGHT as well, with their song “Death,” which is kind of the centerpiece of that movie), “Paper Trails” and “Heart” by Darkside, and “All the Colours of the Dark” by Federale. There are also more light-hearted uses of music, like Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” and Ace of Base’s “All That She Wants.”
Like her previous film, director Amirpour once again creates a story that’s heavy on atmosphere and mood. This dark future isn’t fully explained, but then again, it doesn’t really need to be. The dystopian worldview has become part of popular culture, and it doesn’t really matter what being part of the “bad batch” is, we just know it’s another reason to separate the haves from the have nots. The world the have nots live in here is a tapestry of horrors (the cannibal communities) and distractions (the markets and late-night raves of Comfort). As The Dream, Keanu Reeves is both a religious/cult leader and a beacon of hope for a community of cast-offs. Somehow, he is able to maintain a veneer of civilization amid the chaos. His home is a refuge that denies the state of the outside world, and his job as “repopulator,” with the several pregnant “sister wives” who share his home, offers hope for the future. Honey is also a source of hope, just by being young and open to whatever happens to her. She doesn’t cry as she’s shuttled from her mother, to Arlen, to The Dream; she seems to adapt fairly effortlessly to each new situation, an important ability here.
As Miami Man, Mamoa is more of a brute force, capable of great cruelty and violence, but also very protective of his child, who he’s trying to retrieve. Arlen finds both the chaos (Miami Man) and the order (The Dream) attractive, but she will ultimately have to make a choice. Honey’s choice, however, will be made for her.
Despite being another in a long line of movies about depressing future Earths, THE BAD BATCH works because of its characters, and because of Amirpour’s skill as a storyteller. Somehow, this feels like a fresh spin on a theme that we’ve seen replayed numerous times lately.
I give it three and a half knives.
© Copyright 2017 by LL Soares
LL Soares gives THE BAD BATCH ~three and a half knives.