The Bad Batch is the type of movie that most viewers will either dislike vehemently or enjoy parts of. That’s not to say it’s bad, it’s impressive in spots and it’s visual’s are transcendent. But there’s a looseness in it’s narrative that ultimately leave’s the film feeling weightless and somewhat confounding.
The Bad Batch’s writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour first gained noteriaty in 2015 for her excellent low budget independent horror film, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. A vampire romance story about family and addiction, it’s one of those nearly perfect independent films for a first time director for how it leverages it’s modest means into a singular focus in tone and narrative. Amirpour’s The Bad Batch is clearly operating on a much higher economy of scale then A Girl., and you can certainly see the difference in the film makers scope of vision between the two. The Bad Batch is nothing if not ambitious in a variety of different ways. That ambition ultimately yeild’s mixed results, Armipour’s strength’s as a film maker are utilized in a way that they never could be on a film like A Girl.., but they don’t always translate into an overall coherent film.
The Bad Batch takes place in a future dystopian Texas desert where outsiders are sent that is out of the purview of traditional government authority. It follows the character Arlen, played by new comer Suki Waterhouse, as she is almost immediately captured by a colony of canibals with intentions of taking her in as food supply. Arlen ultimately escapes, and later on kills one of the colony members she finds in the desert in an act of revenge without realizing her victim has a child in tow. Arlen takes the young girl to a seperate, non canibal desert colony called Comfort, overseen by a mysterious drug dealer only known as The Dream, played by Keanu Reeves. The child’s father, only known as Miami Man and played by Jason Momoa, set’s out to find his lost daughter and is ultimately forced to pair up with Arlen to get his daughter home safely.
The film opens at a breakneck pace as we watch Arlen’s capture and escape. It’s gory, frieghtening and thrilling with a series of purposeful action sequences set against the films engrossing cinematgrophy. Upon Arlen’s escape, the movie slows down tremendously to establish the atmosphere of Comfort, and the space between the two disparate communities. The Bad Batch starts to lose form as Arlen wanders throughout Comfort and the barren desert. Supporting charachters like Reeve’s aformentioned The Dream or Jim Carey’s The Hermit and Giovanni Ribisi’s Bobby exist mostly as plot engines without much else. The length between significant story points feel’s stretched past capacity, with little of concequence happening inside of those time lapses in the film. To be fair, Armipour does showcase some of her most strking visual imagery as a director in these spaces. There’s an incredible sequence of Momoa’s Miami Man riding a moped across the desert with a strikingly clear blue sky contrasting the sand storm left in the wake of his tires. Early on, Arlen take’s acid and walks off the colony into the desert, and Armipour injects a degree of lively wonder and surrealism into what’s often a tired film trope with her unique creative vision. But at 115 minutes, The Bad batch is almost two hours long and it certainly feels that way. At times, it’s length is an asset in the spots where the film feel’s immersive, though, it can grate in one single front to back viewing .
Ultimately, The Bad Batch is an enjoyable and wholly unique film experience that’s held back somewhat by it’s deeper flaws in plot and structure. Viewers who are interested in Armipour’s artistry will certainly see a lot to like, and it has enough great idea’s and execution of vision to be enjoyable purely on a visceral level. But it’s lack of cohesion in narrative ultimately holds the movie back from trascending to anything beyond that. Those that bought into the hype of Armipour being “the next Tarrintino” will be disappointed as The Bad Batch does little to elevate beyond the genre trappings of it’s setting. It feel’s like a Saturday afternoon cable movie, one you’d pop in and out of without a lot of thought or attention. There’s several great moments, but it’s rarely produces anything more.