The Bad Batch
After her style was so indelibly stamped across her debut film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Ana Lily Amirpour was always going to have to overcome the ‘difficult second movie syndrome’. There was a strong possibility that Amirpour could of become trapped inside the kooky foreign cinema box, after making what was a dubbed by many as an ‘Iranian vampire Western’. In many respects, The Bad Batch feels like a response to that danger, boldly drawing on her genre influences to remove any restrictions or expectations that her first film could have placed on her creativity.
Whether this will be categorised as a dark-comedy-western-cannibal-romance is still uncertain, but Amirpour maintains that same level of unpredictability and confident world-building that made her debut so engrossing. Once again dialogue is used sparingly and only where absolutely necessary. The barren environment she surrounds her characters with is cloaked in fear, loneliness and isolation, a place where people have been banished and left to explore the depths of their own depravity.
The current state of the world and exactly why these people have been segregated deep within the dusty Texas plains, is never discussed. The first few minutes briefly detail Arlen’s (Suki Waterhouse) journey, branded behind her right ear and locked in on the other side of a Trump-ian style fence by two USRCS officers. Dressed in Converse, bright yellow tie-dye shorts, t-shirt, cap and a backpack, she enters a zone no longer recognised as part of the United States, accompanied only by a tub of water and piece of paper that tells her to find a place called Comfort.
But comfort is definitely not what you would call Arlen’s first encounter in this deserted wasteland. After being kidnapped, she loses an arm and a leg in a camp populated by tanned cannibalistic bodybuilders, before eventually escaping, stretched out across a skateboard covered in shit. Underneath a shaggy beard and dirty clothes, a nameless, wordless and unrecognisable Jim Carrey hauls her into Comfort, a place overseen by The Dream (Keanu Reeves), a patriarchal despot who drip feeds the residents a constant supply of LSD and house music. A chance for Arlen to avenge the loss of her limbs brings her into contact with the endearingly cute (but mute) Honey (Jayda Fink) and her human-eating Mexican father Miami Man (Jason Momoa) who form an unlikely but believable bond.
Similar to A Girl..., there is an unexpected yearning romanticism that drives both Arlen and Miami’s story, in a search to find the humanity they have had to abandon in order to survive. You can cut the thick sexual tension with Miami’s sharp knife (that protrudes suggestively from the side of his torso throughout) and their few scenes together continue to establish and build on that chemistry. With dialogue on the short side, Amirpour once again accompanies her characters with a killer soundtrack, covering everything from Ace of Base, through to old school Chicago House and obscure German composers.
Amirpour is able to use her pop-culture references without compromising the film by creating some sort of second-rate pastiche, a trap that too many directors have fallen into in recent years. The George Miller, Tarantino and Leone influences merge together with an 80s B-movie sensibility without ever casting doubt that this is very much Amirpour’s own controlled vision. So much so in fact, that her direction remains the star of the show over any individual performance, although the cast is suitably strong where needed. The reaction upon release has been very much mixed but there is a lot re-watch value in The Bad Batch and this is likely to be a film that many return to re-evaluate in years to come.