Few directors would cast Jim Carrey, a comedian, in a dramatic role where he doesn’t say a word. Few directors would create a film that can be classified, actually quite accurately, as a “romantic black comedy horror-thriller” (special thanks to Wikipedia) that includes cannibals. Few directors have earned the confidence of Megan Ellison of Annapurna Pictures and involved her in producing their second film. With The Bad Batch, Ana Lily Amirpour has solidified herself as an exciting, up-and-coming American auteur.
Like in her debut film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Amirpour places youth at the center of The Bad Batch. Her protagonist is ‘Bad Batch’ inmate Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) who braves cannibals. It is never made entirely clear what a person is or does to become part of the Bad Batch, but it implied that they are either criminals, societal misfits, or discriminated against, and are exiled to a fenced-in desert wasteland.
Food is far and in between and the Bad Batch become separated into two factions- those who eat humans (they capture those new to the wasteland as a reliable source of food) and those who don’t. Those who don’t- if they successfully make it there- live in a ‘utopic’ city that Amirpour names Comfort. Comfort’s inhabitants believe in The Dream as part of their spirituality and the message printed on a number of white-tee shirts “The Dream Is Inside Me” is similar to Jesus’s words in the Gospel: “The Kingdom of God Is Within You”. Recreational drug usage and raves are part of life within Comfort, although they ascribe a religious component to these activities. Comfort looks to pacify individual thought and emotion through a cultish dynamic.
The microcosm that Amirpour creates in The Bad Batch is not ideal for its inhabitants, nor is it intended to be. It is a punishment, remember. Amirpour crafts her own world through the confines she establishes and explores the human condition through this world.
Viewing The Bad Batch is reminiscent of viewing Fellini’s Satyricon. Both utilize the grotesque and construct a world that, underneath the surface, isn’t too different than our own as seen by the films’ explorations of morality. Humans are governed by the same necessities (food and water) and desires (companionship and self-actualization) regardless of the world they inhabit or lifestyle they are forced to live. Earnest human needs are shown to have ugly manifestations.
The Bad Batch builds upon the strengths of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Returning cinematographer Lyle Vincent does a commendable job, especially during the film’s first twenty minutes. These almost dialogue-free moments evoke fear, beauty, and intensity as Arlen is captured by cannibals. Amirpour’s casting of Suki Waterhouse, an English model in her first lead role, might seem like a questionable choice, but Waterhouse delivers a startlingly accurate Texas accent and is just one of many excellent performances within The Bad Batch. The camera never strays far from her face, her expressions guiding the tone of her scenes.
Waterhouse’s character, Arlen, discovers she does not feel at home within Comfort yet she is repulsed by the cannibals’ capturing and eating of humans. Like Arash in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Arlen experiences inescapable horror and has to choose between worst-case scenarios. Despite the film’s severity of plot, The Bad Batch is overwhelmingly empathetic to its characters. The film finds its way to a feel-good ending, assisted by the heartfelt subplot of a father, a buff, tattooed, cannibal played by Jason Momoa, searching for his lost daughter.