By Lois Kennedy
Director/Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour
Cast: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Yolonda Ross, Jayda Fink, Diego Luna, Jim Carrey
Arlen, having been marked as “Bad Batch” (a “nonfunctioning member of society”) is released in a Texas wasteland. She’s accosted by cannibals who cut off one of her arms and one of her legs. After escaping, she ends up at Comfort, a semi-civilized society run by The Dream. Her adventures continue after taking in a stray child (who is then adopted by The Dream) and meeting the child’s fiercely protective father Miami Man, who will stop at nothing to get her back.
Ana Lily Amirpour’s previous film, ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ was dense and packed with symbolism I didn’t quite feel I understood. ‘The Bad Batch’ isn’t so artsy, but it definitely is challenging. The dialogue is carefully chosen and sparse, and that makes character motivation harder to comprehend.
But what’s intriguing about the characters is that they’re complex–it’s hard to decide who’s right or wrong. Is our hero Miami Man, who chains people up and eats their limbs but loves his daughter, or do we admire The Dream, who drugs his followers and lets them live in poverty while he lives in opulence, but keeps the peace without chopping people to bits? Is Arlen still a protagonist after she blows away an unarmed woman and, for all she knows, orphans her daughter? The movie is completely unpredictable.
My only gripe is that Arlen starts out as a smart and formidable woman. She escapes from the cannibals by covering herself in poop so she’ll be unchained, then beats her captor with one arm. She then scoots off on a skateboard. But she passes out and is plopped in a shopping cart by the Hermit and carried to Comfort. After that, she loses some of her spunk. However, she’s still interesting.
The direction is flawless, the sets are to die for (from the heat-shimmering desert to The Dream’s neon paradise), and the practical effects are top-notch. The performances are also great, my favorites being Suki Woodhouse as Arlen and Jim Carrey as the Hermit. Check it out if you’re in the mood for something gory, gorgeous, and thought-provoking. (But watch it with subtitles, if possible–there’s always someone yelling something in the background, and Jason Momoa’s fake Cuban accent is hard to understand.)