Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut film, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, was an “Iranian vampire spaghetti Western” that earned well-deserved critical acclaim and a devoted fanbase thanks to its memorable black-and-white visuals that walked the line between beauty and horror.
Amirpour’s second film, The Bad Batch, is nowhere near as good.
As the Bad Batch opens, we see a group of prisoners dubbed “the bad batch” being tattooed behind their ears with prisoner numbers as other inmates are warned against them. Then, we see our lead character, Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) - in denim short shorts dyed to look like a watermelon - released into a desert wasteland. Arlen sets out across the desert, in search of a mysterious place called Comfort. When, hours later and out of water, she comes across an abandoned car, she decides to sit down in the front seat and reapply her makeup. While she’s distracted, a group of cannibals approach her by surprise, chase her, and capture her. These cannibals, we learn, are some of "the bad batch" who survive by eating people - they keep their captives alive as long as possible, amputating one or two limbs at a time.
In a heavily sexualized scene, we see a cannibal woman amputate Arlen's arm and leg; some time later, Arlen manages to bludgeon her captor to death and escape by lying down on a skateboard and pushing herself across the desert. After she passes out from exhaustion, a mysterious Hermit (Jim Carrey, almost unrecognizable) takes her to Comfort, a small civilization inhabited by non-cannibal members of the "bad batch" - and led by a mysterious cult leader called the Dream (Keanu Reeves). After she heals, gets used to her prosthetic leg, and learns how to shoot a gun with perfect aim, Arlen leaves Comfort twice. The first time, she kills a cannibal woman (Yolonda Ross) and takes her daughter (Jayda Fink); the second time, she meets the woman's partner and little girl's father, a mysterious cannibal known only as the "Miami Man" (Jason Momoa) - and begins to fall for him.
If you've kept track of the coverage leading up to the Bad Batch's release, you may have seen tweets or articles about how the Bad Batch deals with race. There are two women of color who have lines - and those lines are mostly pleading for their lives before being brutally murdered; additionally, the only black man in the film is killed pretty much immediately. Particularly disturbing is how the cannibal woman, who is black, is framed as a villian - we're meant to be happy that Arlen kills her and takes her daughter - but her cannibal husband is romanticized. When, at a Q&A, a black woman, Bianca Xunise asked Amirpour why all the black characters are killed off immediately, Amirpour shrugged her off - and then went after her on Twitter (Amirpour later apologized). The film's fetishization of Arlen's amputation and disablity also deserves critique.
My less important complaint is about the lead. Waterhouse, a model, is  very beautiful, but she is not a particularly good actress. She has a Southern accent in this role, though at first I thought she was supposed to be Australian; and many scenes require her to show extreme panic and desperation, which she doesn’t really do. The camera spends a lot of time lingering on Waterhouse's butt, ostensibily to show us her collection of quirky jorts and her prosthetic leg; but at times, it seems as if we're getting close-ups of Waterhouse's ass instead of some emotional range.
The Bad Batch is not all bad. Like with A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, many of the shots of the desert, or of neon lights, are beautiful; and the film uses music effectively. You can tell it’s made by the same director. Keanu Reeves is surprisingly great as the cult leader the Dream - he's somehow creepy, ridiculous, and charismatic all at once. In fact, I wish the film had centered on Comfort's cult community, rather than on Arlen and the Miami Man.
Amirpour is undeniably talented, but the Bad Batch suffers from a sprawling plot, some poor casting, and a lack of critical thought as to how it portrays race and disablity. I'll be watching to see if Amirpour's third film holds up to A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.
Images from The Bad Batch
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