If you can’t build a Trump-sized wall to stop immigrants and undesirables from “polluting” America the Beautiful, just send them out into a wasteland outside of Texas to fend for themselves. That’s the premise driving The Bad Batch, a dystopian fable from writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour, whose stunning 2014 debut feature – an Iranian feminist vampire western called A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – showed promise that this follow-up only partially lives up to.
The filmmaker puts the focus on society’s rejects, each tattooed with a “bad batch” number and then exiled forever from the good batch crowd. The British actress, model and photographer Suki Waterhouse stars as Arlen, a human discard who’s given the heave-ho and told that “no person within the territory beyond this fence is a resident of the United States of America or shall be acknowledged, recognized or governed by the laws and governing bodies therein.” Our President couldn’t have said it better.
That leaves Arlen prey to cannibals, the kind who think nothing of drugging her and hacking off parts of her arm and leg. Jason Momoa plays Miami Man, the group’s leader that Arlen inexplicably crushes on. She escapes from the people-eaters’ HQ on a skateboard, with Miami Man’s young daughter Honey (Jayda Fink) in tow. Still, her prospects look grim until a mute stranger, played by a nearly unrecognizable Jim Carrey, picks her up with a shopping cart.
I am not making this up. And I haven’t even mentioned Keanu Reeves yet. He plays a cult leader called “the Dream,” who runs Comfort, the community that hides from the cannibals behind shipping containers and offers sanctuary to pilgrims like Arlen and Honey. This charismatic figure comes with his own personal Disco DJ and enjoys protection from heavily armed pregnant women wearing t-shirts proclaiming, “The Dream is Inside Me.”
Amirpour dips into an seemingly bottomless supply of signs and symbols to show us an imploding society all too recognizable as our own, and you’ll marvel at hallucinatory brilliance of her images. Yet The Bad Batch never finds a way to fuse its scattered intentions into a cohesive whole. The filmmaker influences range from El Topo to Mad Max: Fury Road, but she’s lost a little of herself this time. Still, her talent remains indisputable. We can’t wait to see what she does next.