J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Bad Batch: Ana Lily Amirpour’s Sophomore Slump

Social Justice Warriors are sure to chastise us for minimizing the contributions of Cannibal-Americans to society. For instance, nobody considers all the people Jeffrey Dahmer helped while he worked as a phlebotomist. Call us unreconstructed, but many Americans would just as soon be rid of flesh-eating serial killers. However, cannibals, violent psychopaths, and drugged-out sociopaths will be championed as the marginalized and dispossessed victims of a anthropophagusaphobic-normative society in Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

After receiving her “bad batch” verdict, Arlen is dumped outside the Texas border fence (fences, get it?) with a bottle of water and told to sod off. She is quickly picked up by a gang of cannibals who live in post-apocalyptic Venice Beach-ish trailer park commune known as “The Bridge,” led by the distinctively tattooed “Miami Man.” After seeing an arm and a leg get served up, Arlen manages to pull off an unlikely escape. Fortunately, when she collapses in the desert, a twitchy drifter (a stunt cameo by Jim Carrey, probably supplying his own wardrobe and hairstyling) drags her to a safe haven called Comfort.

The entire economy of Comfort seems to revolve around a flea market, but the charismatic leader, “The Dream” provides free drugs and a nightly rave DJed by Diego Luna for all residents. Yet, The Dream is a lecherous bigamist, whereas Miami Man is a good to his wastelander urchin daughter, therefore the Bridge was actually the more ethical community—or so Amirpour would have us believe.

The problems with Bad Batch run wide and deep. Even more fundamental than its iffy logical consistency is the personality-less lead. As Arlen, Suki Waterhouse displays zero screen presence. We have no sense of what goes on in her head, so when she makes highly dubious decisions during the third act, we can only conclude she is also a sociopath and therefore most likely deserves to be where she is. At least Jason Momoa is well-cast as the bulked-up Miami Man, but his dodgy Cuban accent adds a further note of off-key pitchiness.

Frankly, Bad Batch is like a late 1980s vision of near-future post-apocalyptic dystopia (analog media, Ace of Bass cranking on the soundtrack), filtered through a prism of 2016 politics. In scene after scene, Amirpour takes us out of the film and invites us to marvel at its relevancy. Border fences, xenophobia, sexual exploitative leaders, ooooh how daring.

Considering how terrific Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is, Bad Batch is arguably one of the worst, expectation-dashing sophomore slumps ever, right down there with Southland Tales, Elysium, and S1m0ne. It is just an ugly, heavy-handed mess. Not recommended under any circumstances, The Bad Batch opens today (6/23) in New York, at the IFC Center.

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