It’s no secret that writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour is a talented filmmaker, one with a distinctive flair for world-building and genre storytelling. Hot off the heels of the excellence that was her debut feature, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, the pressure was officially on as she prepared her highly-anticipated sophomore delivery. Set in a post-apocalyptic United States, where the outcasts of the country have been dumped and essentially left to rot in the cruel heat of the desert, The Bad Batch follows the story of a young woman named Arlen as she herself attempts to navigate the bad, bad world beyond the familiar. While Amirpour’s keen eye for style is still undeniably present, The Bad Batch feels like a disappointment considering the potential she showcased in Girl, the film saddled by weak, almost embarrassing dialogue (and terrible accents!), and quite frankly, some very distasteful directorial choices. Just a warning, spoilers to follow.
At the very least, the first twenty minutes of the film are an absolute thrill, seamlessly veering between horror and suspense as Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) falls prey to a group of very hungry cannibals. Left to their own devices and without any natural resources in the desert to enjoy, humans are left with no choice but to turn on each other, feasting on innocent fresh meat like Arlen herself. Handcuffed to a pole as her arm and leg literally get chopped off, the highly visceral scene is brutal and difficult to watch, leaving you to wonder just how the hell the film moves forward with its protagonist so helpless and bloodied already. With no other way to move but her elbows, Arlen scurries around the cannibal wasteland in hiding, only to miraculously roll herself out of the camp, lying on top of a measly skateboard as her means of escape.
Months later, Arlen has found herself a prosthetic leg and settled into yet another corner of the desert, a place hilariously named Comfort. Life in Comfort, however, is anything but comfortable. Run by a very creepy cult leader named The Dream (played by a sleazy Keanu Reeves), Comfort is a free for all of a town, where its gross citizens put trailer trash to shame, the drugs are aplenty, and Diego Luna plays a DJ named Jimmy that blasts music out of a gigantic, rolling boombox. Yes, really. If the world ended tomorrow and its only survivors were crazy, drug-addled campers at any music festival, then Comfort perfectly encapsulates such a fever dream of a scene.
It’s when Arlen starts to seek revenge upon the cannibals that things truly go awry in the storytelling. Conveniently enough for her, she stumbles upon the wife and daughter of the cannibals’ leader, Miami Man (Jason Momoa, ahem, playing a character from Cuba with a heavy accent), as they scavenge for whatever scraps they can take home in a junkyard in the middle of the desert. Mercilessly, Arlen kills Maria, the mother, right in front of her young daughter, Honey. If that wasn’t enough salt in the wound, Arlen takes Honey with her back to Comfort, essentially replacing Maria as her mother and caretaker. Little does she know, Miami Man is seeking his own revenge and coming straight for the monster who took his daughter and killed his wife.
As Arlen and Miami Man finally meet, he threatens to kill her and is rather violent in his treatment of her, forcing her to help him find the daughter he’s helplessly searching for, with no clue that she’s already standing right before him. An incredibly strange chemistry arises between the two outcasts, both clearly different and mismatched, but connect in their shared feelings of isolation. The film is ultimately defined by this supposed “love story” between a father and his wife’s killer, making their scenes extremely uncomfortable to watch, especially knowing what Arlen has done to his family.
Not to mention, only people of color in the film suffer the most violent of deaths, all while the white protagonists continuously get to walk away, even as they’re bleeding out of their chest or having their limbs chopped off. It’s difficult to deny how unsettling it is that such choices were made by the same person who created the world of the feminist, Iranian vampire vigilante in A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. While The Bad Batch is anything but dull and refuses to tie itself to any single genre, what it ultimately has in ambition, it lacks in realization.