In her second full-length film, writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour throws us into a fairly specific post-apocalyptic world of her own creation and provides viewers very few details.
In this (possibly) not-so-distant future, those in society who are most unredeemable are tattooed with a number behind their ear and thrown through a perimeter fence into a far-flung wasteland that is, or at least was, part of Texas. If this happens to you, you’re in the “bad batch.”
When we meet Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), she’s freshly inked and dropped off into the desert with only a sandwich, some water, and a pair of very colorful jean shorts. While there appears to be nothing in the distance as far as the eye can see, it isn’t long before Arlen is captured.
You see, there appear to be two distinct ways of survival if you are an awful enough to be exiled here. Some people make it to Comfort, a safe-haven community where anything is available for a price. Those picked up before they arrive in Comfort are snagged by “bridge people,” a cannibalistic tribe of bad batchers (many of whom are inexplicably bodybuilders) who survive by dismembering their prey and honing some serious butchering skills.
Arlen’s price for survival is literally an arm and a leg. She escapes from her predators and makes her way to Comfort, which is like if “Mad Max: Fury Road” went to Burning Man. Five months after her traumatic limb losses, Arlen is out scavenging for scraps, when she comes face-to-face with a woman and her young daughter. These are bridge people who are unfortunate enough to have crossed her path.
This setup of this first thirty minutes or so are incredibly promising, but then we get ninety more minutes of nonsense. The film’s widescreen frame is filled with striking visuals and heavily detailed set design. The technical merits are plentiful, but the film is overloaded with a bloated storyline and groan-worthy dialogue. Along the way, we’re treated to an unrecognizable Jim Carrey and the guru of Comfort played by Keanu Reeves. In one particularly awful scene, he explains his power and influence by regaling Arlen with a story about how he makes the sewer system work. He also appears to be managing a baby farm, surrounded by young pregnant women all wearing shirts that say “The Dream Is Inside Me.”
Unfortunately, “The Bad Batch” presents many more questions than it answers and survives on style over substance. Amirpour does have an uncanny knack for setting the tone with an incredibly propulsive soundtrack that features music from Darkside, Pantha Du Prince, and White Lies. It’s a shame that these audiovisual merits of the film far exceed the storytelling.
The film does not have any scheduled encore screenings at Fantastic Fest. It has been acquired by Screen Media Films and Netflix, who will premiere it in early 2017.