Visually stunning and backed by an impressive soundtrack, The Bad Batch feels very much like an artistic, dramatic/horror version of Mad Max.
Although The Bad Batch does have some graphic scenes of decapitation, overall the film feels stripped back and toned down, removing the chaotic fast-paced action and violence we would normally expect with this type of film.
Director Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) takes the film in a new direction, focusing more on the characters in a bizarre and often colorful dystopian future.
Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is exiled as part of the bad batch. Criminals, no longer seen as suitable to reside within modern society, are forced to live in their own dystopian wasteland, which has been created on the outskirts of Texas. It’s an open prison which is fenced off from the rest of civilization.
As Arlen begins her journey through the open desert with just a bottle of water, she soon finds herself in trouble. Kidnapped by a group of savage cannibals, they take her prisoner before cutting off one of her right forearm and lower right leg. Despite her injuries, Arlen manages to escape her captures and is helped by a passing drifter who takes her to a non-cannibal community, in the town called Comfort.
With the help of the town, Arlen manages to get back on her foot and decides to venture back out in search of revenge. But when she sets out on her journey, she begins to find more than she was ever expecting.
THE BAD BATCH has a light script and seems to be lacking a plot for most of the film, with the story very much driven by the characters and the visual look of the film. It has an art house feel with some amazing cinematography encompassing the beauty and dangers of the desert plains, which often clash with the makeshift environments the occupants have created.
With the stylization of the film and restricted dialogue, I appreciate what Director Amirpour was trying to do — letting the locations and the performances tell the story.
I do feel the limited dialogue hinders the development of the characters, especially as most of the bad batch have been attuned to the environment, making them appear closed off and almost devoid of emotion. Without words, it is difficult to determine what really drives them.
The excellent soundtrack really is a pivotal part of the story and works brilliantly to encapsulates the emotion of the scene, using an eclectic mixture of rock, pop and electro music. It is incorporated so well into what’s happening on the screen, like another character narrating the film.
For a cannibal film it doesn’t have much violence. But what it does have is quite brutal, despite the indirect style in which it is presented. The highlight of the film occurs during a vicious start, where the deception of Arlen first occurs. The scene is so powerful, it builds a real intensity for the first 20 minutes, and the rest of the film never manages to reach the same standard.
The violence was never meant to be the focus of the film. But, after such a powerful start, the lack of action, suspense and violence almost left the film in an anticlimax, losing that initial edge it had created.
Depending how you interpret the film, there are several messages throughout regarding the political situations. Some seem more obvious, such as the fenced borders to Texas where the socially unacceptable (bad batch) are exiled from the country — a reflection of some of the political views in America regarding immigration and building a wall. Other messages surrounding Keanu Reeves’ character, The Dream, and his female body guards are a bit more open to interpretation.
Suki Waterhouse does a good throughout as the strong-willed Arlen and creates some of the most memorable moments as she continues to fight on despite her disabilities. Two scenes are particularly memorable; when she tries to escape her captors by laying on a skateboard, pushing herself with one leg, and where she uses a cut-out picture of a model’s arm to convey a sense of normality while looking at her reflection.
Like so many moments of dark humor, it comes across as amusing, while also making you feel compassion for Arlen and her situation.
Jason Momoa feels restricted in his role as Miami Man. His musclebound performance seems to be modeled on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s early role as Conan the Barbarian for most of the film. He comes alive most when he is with his on screen daughter Honey (Jayda Fink), as there appears to be a genuine, natural connection between the two. But outside of this, he is limited to grumbling his words and doing the 60-yard stare.
The surprising performance in the film comes from Jim Carrey as The Hermit. I was surprised to see his name in the film credits, as he is completely unrecognizable in the role. Proving once again how good he can be as a straight actor, his silent cameo performance is one of the most memorable of the film.
The Bad Batch is visually stunning. It is filled with some excellent dark humor and driven by some strong performances and a killer soundtrack.
I enjoyed the film, but I would love to have seen some more character development and more time taken to build up the tension. If they could have maintained, or at least replicated, the intensity at the start to the film, this could have been a real classic. As it stands now, it’s an entertaining film that is definitely worth watching.