THE BAD BATCH Review: 6 out of 10 (A Better Movie gone Bad)
THE BAD BATCH is a strange cinematic experience on several levels. Crossing all sorts of genres from dystopian to western to romance to comedy to transgressive horror it sort of defies description--but here goes. Imagine ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK meets MAD MAX and is set near a Burning Man Festival. If that sounds like your jam, then you will enjoy at least the first half of this film. The second half is certainly a "Your Mileage May Vary" situation, unfortunately.
Directed and written by Ana Lily Amirpour, the film stars Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Jim Carrey, Giovanni Ribisi and Keanu Reeves. The film opens with Arlen (Waterhouse) being abandoned inside a fence line somewhere in the desert of Texas. Though the first 40 minutes of the film has sparse dialogue, we learn that this fenced-in wasteland is a "dumping ground" for the rest of the country. Garbage, scrap, and trash are all left in the desert--including the "bad batch" of people abandoned there. The insane, criminals, immigrants, the sick--they are all stranded in this wasteland and left to fend for themselves. With no surprise, two camps seem to have emerged. The "Bridge People" led by Miami Man (Momoa) and the small oasis of Comfort with a Jim Jones-esque leader known only as "the Dream" played by Keanu Reeves. The latter has his own gaggle of women he impregnates in his fortress in the center of Comfort, passing out free hallucinogenics to the citizens of Comfort like communion mass. Strange as it might be, the alternative tribe of body building cannibals seems far worse, lopping off the limbs of their victims while keeping them chained up. The film is full of strange and odd characters including a lone hermit played by an unrecognizable Jim Carrey and a crazy prophet played by Giovanni Ribisi.
Harlen is our protagonist and heroine but doesn't seem particularly sly or cunning to deal with this desolate place full of cannibalism, drugs, prophecies, and bloodlust. As the film settles into the second act, she seems to waver in her alliances while also being set on revenge for those that have done her wrong. With one-on-one encounters with both Miami Man and The Dream, Arlen seems to choose her own path, which might be more insane than the options she had to choose from. Though some might see this as a metaphor for society, others likely will be frustrated by a movie that seems to unravel despite the interesting premise it creates. Each of these characters is terribly interesting but Harlen is like a pinball that bounces from one to another of them without engaging or committing to any.
Though I cannot fault the creative and visually arresting vision that Amirpour creates in THE BAD BATCH, there are a few too many cracks that become gaping crevices near the end of the film. This film just cannot keep the promises that it makes in the first half of the film, choosing instead to take a route in its final act that some moviegoers might embrace while others will be aggravated and confused. However, for those willing to forge their own path with a movie that shows promise, there might be value in the ticket.