The Bad Batch sure makes the apocalypse look pretty. Iranian filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour’s follow up to the acclaimed A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a neon-bright, kaleidoscopic horror show that offers a terrifying glimpse into a dystopian post-apocalyptic wasteland with many unfortunate similarities to our own.
Suki Waterhouse stars as Arlen, one of the “Bad Batch” of people ejected from the United States and forced to wander the desert wastelands of Mexico for her unrevealed crimes. She soon encounters a commune known as the Bridge, where she is immediately drugged and has a leg and arm severed off in extremely gory fashion (soundtracked to Ace of Bass’ “All That She Wants,” in a very Tarantino turn). Turns out the Bridge is actually a cannibal camp, headed by the literal human butcher known as Miami Man (Game of Thrones‘ Jason Momoa, sporting a nearly incomprehensible Cuban accent).
Arlen, now a double-amputee, manages to escape from the Bridge thanks to a wandering hobo (played by a virtually unrecognizable Jim Carrey) and lands up at Comfort, a desert group headed by a cultish leader (Keanu Reeves) who extols its residents to “Follow the Dream,” usually through the copious use of psychedelic drugs and desert raves.
Things soon come to a head for Arlen after a botched kidnapping pushes her to choose her allegiance between the two camps, while forcing her to examine her own core beliefs amidst the ensuing chaos.
There are obvious parallels to Trump’s America in The Bad Batch — all that’s missing is an actual wall separating the Bad Batch (“bad hombres?”) from the presumably sane regular Americans out in civilization. Apart from that, it’s unclear what Amirpour is trying to say about the current state of the world here. Both the Bridge and Comfort enclaves have their own setbacks (although cannibalism definitely trumps a cult of personality), so the political allegories don’t necessarily hold through throughout the film. Things get even murkier as the love story at the heart of the film kicks in — Amirpour is obviously trying to circumvent the audience’s expectations by turning the cannibalistic Miami Man into an eligible bachelor, but there is something to be said for Arlen making the best of a bad set of choices in her situation (maybe the political allegory does hold true after all).
While the narrative of the film fumbles a bit towards the end, The Bad Batch is still a marvel to look at, from the literal psychedelic moments to the beautiful shots of the wide open desert landscape. Waterhouse makes a very formidable desert warrior (the amputee CGI work is top-notch), and she might rightfully claim the sort of fan adulation that greeted Charlize Theron for her great work in the Mad Max reboot.
One can easily view The Bad Batch as the widescreen flip side to the confined horror of It Comes at Night, another recent post-apocalyptic film that offers little answers to its audience. Amirpour also seems unconcerned with just how the world broke down — she would rather focus on navigating the baffling terrain we find ourselves in.
The Bad Batch screens at Cinema du Parc June 23 & 24 during its Parc at Midnight series, and hits iTunes on June 23.