The Bad Batch begins with a pretty young woman named Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) wandering through the desert, wearing cute cropped shorts that look like a watermelon. She’s got a jug of water and a child-like lilt that belies the imminent danger she’s in. It’s not long before she’s picked up by a couple of cannibals in a golf cart. She becomes their prisoner and they take her arm and leg. Soon after, she cleverly escapes and eventually makes her way to a community in the desert called “Comfort.”
This is the second feature by Ana Lily Amirpour. Perhaps you caught her first film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, a black and white horror featuring a sulky Iranian vampire sucking the blood from unsuspecting victims in the nighttime. The movie really made the rounds on Netflix and captured many hearts and minds. I thought it was pretty good, but I had the sense the filmmaker was just getting started. I had big hopes for this second effort. What might Amirpour do with an American production, a bigger budget and bright colors in the desert? Nothing much but let me down, I’m afraid.
The Bad Batch exists in a near future dystopia, where undesirable people are tattooed and unceremoniously dropped off in a fenced off area in the Texas desert. What makes these people “bad” and what the world is like outside the cursed perimeter are questions with answers beyond the scope of this narrative. The film begins with our lead character Arlen shrouded in mystery and ends much the same way. In its nearly two-hour running time, we learn next to nothing about the lead beyond the bare bones facts: She’s a bad girl who doesn’t much care for weightlifters in the desert who eat humans, but neither is she too attached to the people of Comfort. They’ve giving her a prosthetic leg, and the stump of her arm has healed, but ultimately, this girl is a lone wolf intent on playing by her own rules.
The plot thickens when Arlen comes across one of her cannibal enemies in the desert with a little girl in tow. The kid’s innocent, but her mother, not so much. Nevermind how, but Arlen takes custody of the child and brings her back to Comfort. Then she drops acid at a rave and whoops, loses track of the kid. Does this sound funny to you? Well, the movie’s taking itself pretty goddamn seriously. If it achieves any amount of levity, it might be in the frequent appearance of that “hang in there!” cat poster featured inconspicuously in the background of the film’s few interior scenes. This is always good advice!
The little girl has a cannibal dad named Miami Man (Jason Momoa) who meets Arlen in the desert, where they share an LSD fueled moment that qualifies the picture as a “romance,” I guess. Will they, won’t they, etc.
Finally, when there’s a rave in a dystopian science fiction, there’s a Keanu Reeves. He shows up midway through the picture as the charismatic leader of Comfort, which we eventually learn via dull monologue is fueled by chaos and drugs. The little girl has fallen into the clutches of The Dream (this is apparently Reeves’ character’s name), who lives in a mansion with a harem of pretty pregnant women. If you’ve seen the new Mad Max picture, it will help fill in a lot of blanks with regards to what The Dream is up to.
For all the style and veneer, The Bad Batch has a thin story and an incoherent world populated by unconvincing characters, and I felt bored and depressed watching it.