Although I wasn’t so much a fan of Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night I had a great feeling from the style that she would only build up to become something more but from her second feature, The Bad Batch, I’ve only found myself growing increasingly cautious in approaching her future work now. For as much as I found myself able to admire A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night as a form of visual experimentation, there seemed to be something far more restrictive coming in regards to what The Bad Batchwas trying to do with its own narrative – for at its worst it either becomes needlessly disgusting or outright boring, yet at its best we have a charismatic performance or two. If anything felt more fitting in describing what The Bad Batch felt like, it was an exploitation film that seemed to overreach beyond what it really was at its core.
After a fairly disgusting opening with Suki Waterhouse’s Arlen having escaped a group of cannibals, we delve deeper into what seems to be a post-apocalyptic Texas. Not that The Bad Batch is really a film driven by its plot rather than its style, because a part of me at least felt when watching A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night that it was moving somewhere at the very least, even if it was most recognizably a style-over-substance piece of work. The Bad Batch presents a different case scenario, because it seems to be a work that revels in its style to the point it doesn’t even have anything else to be. Which would maybe be fine if The Bad Batch were a short film at around half an hour in length, but because it lasts nearly a mere two hours, to find myself ever getting invested is a different story because it feels like a stretched concept.
At its best, what Ana Lily Amirpour manages to evoke is a distinctive vision of Americana in the same manner that A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was supposedly the first “Iranian vampire western” but I’m not even sure what exactly is The Bad Batch even trying to be from the way it’s set up. The film’s disjointed narrative perhaps would be evidence that maybe Amirpour would have intended some sort of an allegory behind the concept of the film’s own setting, but it seems almost like it’s coming off as overreaching in a sense because at its core it still appears like an exploitation film. There’s perhaps an interesting idea present within how it’s completely erasing the idea of protagonists and antagonists, just showing humanity at its worst and what happens as a result, but it’s only an exploitation film by roots trying far too hard, and failing at being philosophical.
Maybe the most off-putting aspect about The Bad Batch side from how it seems to have difficulty in setting its own mood. For when it’s relentlessly violent, it’s outright unpleasant, and then there comes a moment in which it suddenly becomes light-hearted and funny. Going back to what I’ve mentioned as a disgusting opening, we have Suki Waterhouse’s character losing an arm and a leg (albeit not graphic). But this blend of comedy and horror isn’t particularly fascinating, it only begins to show how broken The Bad Batch seems to be as a whole. It seems so broken on this ground because it was clear enough that it had its own trouble finding a clear identity whether it be as an exploitation film to a wannabe philosophical piece, then a really graphic horror film to a lighter comedy with its darker spots. It never finds its own place, nor does it find any sort of greater outcome in the very end.
I want to say the cast is good because Keanu Reeves’s brief appearance is where all the charisma seems to lie, but many players only feel like wasted potential at their very best in here. For Keanu Reeves was entertaining enough, but there’s almost no reason for his character to be in the film just as Jim Carrey’s own came in, and disappeared and returned then and there. Jason Mamoa’s presence should prove entertaining when one knows what to expect out of him, but Suki Waterhouse has nothing much to her character and is just as boring as ever. At the film’s very worst, the performances are boring cardboard figures and then the very best moments come out from completely unnecessary additions to the story, which add more to what made a conflicting experience out of The Bad Batch. There’s talent visible on the screen but it’s either in all the wrong places or never gets to show itself properly.
Ana Lily Amirpour’s visual style may be something to behold, but there’s almost nothing of interest in The Bad Batch to grab oneself because it never seems to have enough time in setting itself up in that regard. But I suppose the fact that we had Die Antwoord as a part of the film’s soundtrack that this film was only set to go downhill. It’s in some sense a bunch of music videos with similar ideas strung together in order to make a film, and in another sense an exploitation film that doesn’t even seem to have much to exploit. It should be easy enough to make a play on the title to indicate the quality of the actual product, but it doesn’t get down to the bone of why The Bad Batch fails miserably. When you think of an overly ambitious film student who thinks they have something to say, yet only churn out incoherence as their final product, then The Bad Batch sets a perfect example of such.
Watch the trailer right here.[youtube https://youtu.be/OUqfP1S-9ok]
All images via Neon.
Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
Screenplay by Ana Lily Amirpour
Produced by Megan Ellison, Danny Gabai, Sina Sayyah
Starring Suki Waterhouse, Giovanni Ribisi, Diego Luna, Jason Mamoa, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 115 minutes