Mark Reviews Movies

The Bad Batch


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Ana Lily Amirpour

Cast: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Jayda Fink, Keanu Reeves, Diego Luna, Jim Carrey, Yolonda Ross, Aye Hasegawa, Giovanni Ribisi

MPAA Rating: R (for violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity)

Running Time: 1:58

Release Date: 6/23/17 (limited)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 22, 2017

The choices aren't too appealing: living in colony run by laid-back tyrant who keeps the population drugged into complacency, living in a different colony that survives on cannibalism, or wandering the desert as a nomad, bartering for food and water, while hoping to avoid the members of that second colony, who are looking for another meal. These are the terms of the barren wasteland of The Bad Batch, a place where the outcasts of society have been forced to exist for reasons that the movie never explains—but probably doesn't need to, anyway.

The place is essentially a free-range prison, established somewhere in Texas but not officially part of the state or the United States. No laws apply here, say the signs on the fence dividing the prison from civilized society. It's a society that allows for human beings to be forcibly displaced in this way for crimes that, for the most part, are never stated, so it's a good question just how "civilized" that society of an undisclosed time in the future actually is.

We do learn the crime of the man who runs the cannibal colony. He was an undocumented immigrant from Cuba who worked multiple jobs just to get by in life. Now he's abducting people in the desert and systematically severing their limbs for food. Something tells us he wouldn't be doing that if he still had three jobs to work in the U.S.

The setup within director Ana Lily Amirpour's screenplay is decidedly political, but anybody who comes away from the movie with a theory of how this story fits into the current political debate in any relevant way is either overthinking it or under-thinking it. The movie's political arguments are self-contained, basically amounting to the ideas that cannibalism is bad, keeping a population drugged is bad, and stealing and killing while wandering the desert is bad.

All of these things are eventually excused by way of morally relativistic argument, because the really bad thing is a supposedly "civilized" society that would force people into doing these things. It's kind of an accomplishment how Amirpour makes such a correct point in so many wrong ways.

The newest prisoner in the desert is Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), a young woman who is almost immediately captured by the cannibal clan, has an arm and leg sawed off, and later escapes. She makes her way, lying on her back on a skateboard, through the desert, and soon, a shopping cart-pushing hermit (Jim Carrey) brings her to Comfort, the tranquil-for-being-tranquilized colony run by a man who calls himself the Dream (Keanu Reeves).

Five months later, Arlen has a prosthetic leg and has made Comfort a home. She goes wandering in the desert—looking for revenge, we have to assume—and finds a woman from the cannibal colony with a young girl named Honey (Jayda Fink). Arlen kills the woman and brings the girl with her to Comfort. Meanwhile, Miami Man (Jason Momoa), the aforementioned Cuban immigrant and leader of the cannibals, goes looking for Honey, his daughter.

That's the extent of the plot, save for the complication that, after taking a drugged-out trip into the desert, Arlen encounters Miami Man, who enlists her, under pain of death, to find the daughter whom he doesn't know Arlen took. What neither knows is that the girl ends up in the Dream's makeshift mansion, where he keeps a bevy of pregnant women who carry on his line and carry machine guns to serve as his personal security force.

We've established that this isn't a movie about politics or plot. It's not about these characters, either, who don't have a past (Save for Miami Man's back story, we don't learn why any of these people have been sent into the lawless desert, so for all we know, they could be genuinely bad and not just politically inconvenient) and obviously don't have much of a future. One could argue that the Dream's lengthy monologue—about his view that having a sewage system equals a functioning and ideal society—is revelatory in terms of the kind of man he is. If one takes more than a cursory listen to the speech, though, it's little more than a bunch of words that only exist to allow Arlen to sneak her way into his inner sanctum. It's supposed to mean nothing, and it does.

What's The Bad Batch about, then? From its eclectic soundtrack cues to too-cool-for-school performances, this is a movie that's mostly about attitude—ultimately hollow, while being apathetic about everything it shows and anything it could be saying. If the movie doesn't care, why should we?

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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