“The Bad Batch” is an intriguing example of abstract filmmaking that has oozed from the mind of director/writer Ana Lily Amirpour (“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”).
She doesn’t follow traditional paths of linear storytelling or coherent imagery. Instead, she splatters the screen with a concoction of ideas, people and events, forcing viewers to draw their own conclusions of where it is all going. If Amirpour were a trail guide, she would not point you down a set path but drop crumbs you would have to find and follow.
This approach to making movies is not for those who want just a definitive beginning, middle and end. There has to be a willingness to jump into the flow at the random point the director gives you, let it carry you in multiple directions and never reach a clear ending.
Passive moviegoers not willing to step out of their comfort zone should make other plans.
Amirpour invites the viewer to join the journey at the border of Texas and a barren wasteland populated by society’s rejects.
Tossed into this foreboding world is Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), a vain young woman who is captured within the first few moments of the film. Her captors are bodybuilding cannibals who proceed to chop off her right arm and leg. The wounds are bound so that when she is harvested for more food the meat will still be fresh.
Despite her injuries, Arlen escapes, and with the help of a crusty desert hermit (Jim Carrey) she makes her way to a community known as Comfort. This is a place where self-preservation is balanced with living a joyful life. Arlen tries to blend in but she’s driven by a deeper passion — revenge. This puts her in direct conflict with the muscle-bound Miami Man (Jason Momoa), an artist seeking a lost treasure.
All of these elements unfold in more a stream of thought manner than real design. Arlen floats like a post-apocalyptic Alice who has fallen into a rabbit hole of unrelated people and actions. One moment she’s limping through the desert to commit murder and then she’s on a head trip that makes her one with the cosmos.
There’s even an encounter with The Dream (Keanu Reeves), the closet thing her world has to a leader. The Dream is constantly surrounded by a pregnant harem, and he talks in grand terms about his role in relieving the world of waste. It’s the kind of odd role Reeves does well and adds another abstract element to the mix.
Arlen is not a complicated role but did require a performer who could make her way through this strange world while showing little shock and awe. Waterhouse turns in a solid performance as she gives Arlen the kind of strength needed to survive being sent to such a terminal wasteland as one of the bad batch.
“The Bad Batch” can be seen as just another movie about survival in a world designed to destroy hopes, dreams and lives. It can also be seen as a morality lesson about materialism eclipsing spiritualism. There’s really no right or wrong conclusion.
There’s no denying that the film is original and should be a sign of even more engaging work to come.
(At Alamo Drafthouse.)
‘The Bad Batch’
Rated R for violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity.