Ana Lily Amirpour broke into the auteur director scene in a big way in 2014 with her debut feature “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.” Despite similar expectations for her follow up film “The Bad Batch,” Amirpour’s second film bears almost no surface-level resemblance to its predecessor. Unlike her debut, “The Bad Batch” is closer to the usual studio model — it’s not in black and white or the Persian language, and it features renowned actors like Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey amidst its rising stars.
Both of Amirpour’s features effectively transport the viewer into their genre-bending mishmash worlds, and it’s difficult to sum up either plot without giving away too much or boiling them down to a hackneyed catchphrase comparison.
The film begins by introducing a fearless young woman named Arlen, who is left in a Texan desert wasteland as part of the eponymous “bad batch” of people deemed unfit for American society. Instead of spending time establishing what the country is like or what made her a misfit, the film instead jumps into the action and effectively tells a story with almost no dialogue.
Soon into her trek through the desert, Arlen, played by model-turned-actress Suki Waterhouse, is captured by cannibals and left an amputee before she gets a chance to escape. The progression in these opening scenes is gradual yet gripping, using its pace to establish itself as a visceral thriller.
The film is not solely about Arlen, because the aloof, hulking Miami Man, played by Jason Momoa, basically serves as a secondary protagonist. Knowing Hollywood, he’s even featured more heavily in the promotional material.
Arlen finds herself indebted to him and helps him find his young daughter after their separation. The desert reveals it holds more than cannibals, like Comfort, a corrupt yet peaceful commune.
Unfortunately, the film’s pace slows down dramatically after the opening half-hour, and it never recaptures the same adrenaline rush. While the action throughout the remainder of the film is still gloriously brutal, it’s a letdown after the early peak, especially because it’s distilled by a greater presence of dialogue. Waterhouse is a much stronger actress when she doesn’t have to deliver lines.
“The Bad Batch” finds a distinct identity in its style. Black Light Smoke’s danceable “Firefly,” 80s pop hit “Karma Chameleon,” and rave hip hop like Die Antwoord come together to create an eclectic soundtrack that immediately distinguishes the tone of “The Bad Batch” from any other violent dystopian film. It helps the film stay fun despite the heavy subject matter. The film also experiments a lot with its visuals, using fixed cameras and mirrors to frame many shots.
“The Bad Batch” is a story about survival and finding one’s place through desperation. It’s a multi-faceted film without full balance in its aspects, clearly emphasizing style of execution over depth of ideas. By the end of the two hours, the film overstays its welcome, but it’s still impressive in the images it captures.