Review: The Bad Batch (2016)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #670

Number of Views: One
Release Date: June 23, 2017
Sub-Genre: Dystopian/Western
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $6,000,000
Running Time: 118 minutes
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Producers: Megan Ellison, Danny Gabai, Sina Sayyah
Screenplay: Ana Lily Amirpour
Special Effects: Tony Gardner
Visual Effects: Tim ‘Timco’ Conway, Dan Schmit
Cinematography: Lyle Vincent
Editing: Alex O’Flinn
Studios: Human Stew Factory, Annapurna Pictures, Reel Chefs Catering
Distributor: Neon
Stars: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Jayda Fink, Keanu Reeves, Diego Luna, Jim Carrey, Yolonda Ross, Aye Hasegawa, Giovanni Ribisi, Louie Lopez Jr., E.R. Ruiz, Cory Roberts

Suggested Audio Jukebox 😉

[1] DarksidePaper Trails”

[2] Die AntwoordFish Paste”

[3] Black Light Smoke “Screws in My Head”

[4] DarksideHeart”

[5] FederaleAll The Colours of The Dark”

[6] Black Light Smoke (Feat. Lah Lazonick) “Firefly”

Have a nice day they say. That’s easier said than done when you’ve just had two of your limbs hacked off by pumped-up steroid fiends. Poor Arlen knows the feeling well as her hula hoop twirling days are now sadly long behind her. It was all going so well as she wandered aimlessly around the arid flats of Mexican desert, searching for something that I’m fairly sure didn’t include amputation.

But Arlen just so happens to be one of “the bad batch”, a group of lesser individuals deemed unworthy of a place in society. Having had the serial number BB5040 tattooed on her neck, she has been unceremoniously dumped in the desert plains and left to fend for herself, with only a knapsack, baseball cap and jug of water to her name.

No longer protected by United States citizenship, Arlen’s hopes of not winding up buzzard fodder hinge on her survival instincts and ability to sense incoming danger. Alas, the latter appears not to be her strong suit as two women in a golf caddy cart have somehow managed to sneak up on her blind side and snatch her away, no small feat when you consider that she’s surrounded by barren wasteland that stretches as far as the eye can see.

While clearly Arlen’s spacial awareness leaves rather a lot to be desired, her fate is not yet decided and there’s still hope of a rousing eleventh hour escape, should she keep her wits about her. However, survival is something generally reserved for the fittest and it certainly doesn’t harm if you possess some kind of basic mobility.

You see, the going price for entry into The Bridge is fairly steep and it has literally cost Arlen an arm and a leg to gain temporary residency. Pumping iron appears to be the number one pastime in this encampment, well that and cannibalism, and I guess she can console herself with the fact that her forced donation is about to settle a fair few grumbling tummies.

Better yet, any excess fat stripped from the bone could be blended down into a refreshing protein shake to assist in the enhancing of muscle mass. It may be all for a good cause, but Arlen has no recollection of having signed up for it, and refuses to become someone else’s meal ticket. At times like these, there’s only one thing a girl can do – shit herself.

I’m not talking in metaphor here either. Should Arlen have any faint hope of getting the hop on these people-eating fucks, then she may wish to channel all that nervous energy straight to her colon and squeeze out a real sloppy one. That’s not all as excrement will soon dry up if left unattended in a neat little pile in sun-baked conditions. Spread that dung all over your personage like Vegemite Arlen and, with any luck, your scavenger friends won’t mistake it for barbecue sauce. This is where flies come in handy as their only redeeming feature is the ability to sniff out freshly laid feces from a country mile off. I’d say you just earned yourself a hose down girl.

Once the water’s running and those gag reflexes have kicked in (shouldn’t take long in this heat), then you’ll be provided a small window of opportunity to make your surreptitious exit and perhaps locate a discarded skateboard to assist you in your skedaddling. Should lady luck be catching some rays on this day, then this whole unpleasant ordeal could be behind you by brunch and that should come as a big fat relief given that the soup of the day in this cess pit is giblet and onion.

Better yet, you’ll have partially overcome your disability and, provided you don’t hit any steep inclines on your way out of here, could wind up the next female Rodney Mullen. You see Arlen, it’s all about remaining chipper in the face of great adversity. We do what we need to do to survive, after all.

Perhaps this stinking hobo can point you in the right direction. By the way, is it just me or does he seem vaguely familiar to you? Never mind the meet and greet, this awfully congenial fellow has agreed to point you in the direction of a second outpost and the name Comfort suggests your fortunes (decidedly wretched up until now) may be about to change for the better.

At the very worst, they’ll carve off your other arm and leg and, while that rules out mastering the kickflip any time soon, think of the velocity you could pick up on your brand new deck. You should be just fine as I’ve heard whispers about this makeshift town and their legendary flea markets. Be prepared to haggle hard as prosthetic limbs are all the rage apparently and you don’t want to be outbid by Hopscotch Harry at the very last.

You see, I told you things would soon look up. How long has it been now, five months? And I see you’re upwardly mobile again, thanks to your sublime bartering skills and pathetic pleading. Granted, some of the inhabitants of Comfort are a little off their trollies and I fear for poor Bobby as intelligence suggests that it has never heard of him and he’s clearly in his own little Idaho. Bless him.

As a matter of fact, blessings all round, as the good folk of Comfort are a jovial bunch and know precisely how to put on a party. Given that we are currently positioned some time in the none too distant future, I highly doubt that the evening’s festivities will result in huddling around a campfire with harmonicas at the ready. We’re talking a full-on unlicensed rave, the customary celebrations when pariahs come together for a knees-up (or knee-up in your case).

I just pray that the whole “Bad Batch” label isn’t a cunningly devised double entendre. The last thing we need right now is a sheet of bogus acid; with so many minds in need of elevation. There are few feelings more sorrowful than the grim realization that you’ve been soundly diddled on the drug front.

On the upside, Bobby is gurning already, although that may actually just be his default setting. What have you got to lose Arlen? Two more limbs? That’s fine, they even have a chill-out tent for tweakers and amputees. Whoever is responsible for organizing this event must be one helluva guy. Take a look around you, this is pretty much living the dream right?

That’s his official title? The Dream? While I get that he’s no doubt necked rather a lot of psychotropics in his time and likely came up with the name during one such spiritual excursion, it just sounds a tad self-important to me. Does anyone else find it fishy? For starters, take a look at the porn mustache. That says one thing to me – Mild Jesus complex.

Now I’m not suggesting that The Dream has a full on case of self-affliction as he still busts out the beard trimmers I can see. But a man with a ‘tache evidently has business in mind and, unless I’m mistaken, this is his empire after all. Another thing while I’m nitpicking, my grandmother always taught me not to trust a man who wears a pair of shades that big. I’m just saying.

Look at me putting a downer on things when you’ve just dropped acid. Forget my paranoid ramblings and head out into the desert plains to find yourself, just like Jim Morrison would. Comfort will still be here when you return and you can deal with the comedown tomorrow. For now, trip some bollocks, and should the desire grow too strong, perhaps exact a dash of revenge on those who wronged you.

Now the last thing I’m proposing is to march on back to Dante’s Inferno with your pea shooter locked and loaded; that’s just asking for trouble. But out here at the mid-point garbage dump, there are no prying eyes to observe and report. If it’s an eye for an eye, then what’s the going rate on wrists and ankles I wonder?

I’m pleased to see that you didn’t stoop to such subterranean levels Arlene. Cannibalism is a disease and I guess we have The Dream to thank for supplying you the necessary jabs prior to your ill-considered expedition. One shot to the dome and you’ve got the payback you craved with no mess. Okay, so the fact that you just shot a woman dead in front of her sweet, impressionable daughter could be considered a smidgen disorderly, but the little cutie pie shouldn’t be sniffing around human garbage anyway at her age.

Perhaps you’ve done her a favor by executing mommie dearest just before she took that bite of armadillo rump. Quick, deliver her to Comfort before she turns on the waterworks. You ever babysat on acid Arlene? Good luck with that.

Now you’ve done it. Have you ever heard of Miami Man? What am I thinking? You probably remember this chap from your time at The Bridge. He was the dude bench-pressing a buffalo. Looked a little like Kenny Powers only far meaner. Had his name tattooed across his pectorals for crissakes. Yeah, that dude. Well as luck wouldn’t have it, that chick you iced back at the rubble happened to be his tender Roni, and the kid you napped, well I shouldn’t need to paint you a picture.

The word on the flats is that Cuban immigrant Miami Man is one mean son-of-a-bitch and cracks skulls between his biceps just because he’s fond of the open-air acoustics. Snuffing his soul mate is one thing, but did you ever see that film Taken? Should his particular set of skills include the ability to compact a Renault Clio into alloy spam using a mere 25% of his power of clench then I’d say Comfort is about to get dissed. What do you think The Dream will have to say about that shit?

If I were you missy, I’d befriend him before he can tap in those coordinates. I know you hate his guts and wouldn’t expect a great deal other than contempt from him either as you did kind of destroy his entire universe. Of course, he doesn’t need to know it was you that relieved his beloved Maria of her grace. You’re just a one-legged, one-armed girl with nothing much doing and way too much time on your hand.

Who knows, you guys could end up striking up some kind of unspoken mutual friendship. Alas, all those steroids have no doubt rendered the big man’s junk practically unusable, so I’d say nookie’s out of the question. But you could still sit at opposite sides of a fire and say nothing whatsoever to one another. That’s still bonding, am I right?

One teensy-weensy little heads-up before I leave you and Miami Man to your own devices. I regret to inform you that it has something to do with our old friend and kindly dictator, The Dream, and the little poppet you effectively left to fend for herself back at Comfort whilst tripping your tits off in the desert. You see, the thing about dreamers is that they’re not the only ones, and it is only natural that a great man like he will one day consider the legacy he is leaving behind.

The only thing this cat appears to lack is a ready-made progeny and I don’t want to alarm you but you may have just gift-wrapped him one. I’d suggest sneaking back there and pleading with him to relinquish her but would imagine it’ll set you back an arm and a leg, at the very least. Don’t suppose you need another dump do you?

When Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature debut, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, announced itself as the first “Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western” at Sundance back in 2014, I’d imagine it raised a few eyebrows. The thing is, everywhere it traveled, it raised a few more, until half the planet wished to follow this girl home and Amirpour was forced to rethink her title.

While A Girl Walks Home With Friends At Night doesn’t quite capture the imagination in the same way, friends is exactly what the young American filmmaker made. I’ve always been naff at sticking to curfews so haven’t yet had the exclusive pleasure. Given that critics have been so hot on drawing comparisons between the two, it felt like a dainty plan not to break my duck just yet, and instead, offer her sophomore effort the daylight and water first.

Much has been said about the fact that The Bad Batch meanders and doesn’t have half as much to say as it thinks it does. While admittedly 120 minutes is a fair stretch of road, when you could argue that it could have just as easily dropped and given us a hundred, there’s something almost impossible to place about the film that ensures it remains quietly compulsive throughout and never once did my attention waver.

The bone dry desert setting may seem a little too sprawling after the more intimate ghost town of Bad City, but this only serves to fuel the sense of isolation required to make us shuffle uncomfortably in our cozy recliners. Sparsely populated and uninviting it may be, but you never know who you might run into out here and there are plenty of colorful characters if you just know where to look (beneath a rock would be a good place to start).

Relative newcomer Suki Waterhouse gives a rather splendid account of herself as the Texan gal with more spunk than luck, particularly given the sparsity of dialogue. Meanwhile, her tag-team partner Jason Momoa brings a lot more to the table than a killer set of abs and uses expression to speak volumes on his behalf. The chemistry between Arlen and Miami Man may be both unlikely and understated, but it does exist and is sweet in a slightly astringent kind of way.

Amirpour is disinterested in making anything clear-cut and justified in her decision by two lead protagonists whose paths are far from mapped out. Hers is the kind of movie that not so much encourages use of our own noodles as insists upon it. Fuck it, if we’re going to hang out in dystopia right?

Speaking of imagination, cinematographer Lyle Vincent persuades newcomers to break out the glow-sticks by rushing our retinas with neon lasers and flavored mist, spinning us around on the spot until giddy, then spitting us back out into nowhere. The stark contrast between desolate burnt orange terrain and fertile razzle-dazzle rave-pit is handsomely realized and symbolism also figures high on the agenda. Arlen and Miami Man may not always see fit to spell shit out, but Amirpour knows of more than one way to skin roadkill and rewards undivided attention through a peppering of significant signposts.

Our trio of big name draws all bring their A-game, with Keanu Reeves following up his spectacularly sleazy turn in Nicholas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon with a similarly slippery one as the man with a mirage. Giovanni Ribisi appears to be in his absolute element as friend of the fairies, Bobby, albeit in far too fleeting a capacity to fully celebrate his organic irregularity.

As for our third, well I guess I should bring our resident vagabond back for closer inspection and see if you can suss out who’s hiding beneath that disheveled beard and jutting chimp jaw. Tell you what, I’ll even supply you one clue. “Wanna hear the most annoying sound in the world?”

I know right? Sneaky little heathen. I’m of the school of belief that there’s never a bad time for a spot of Jim Carrey and, though his screen time here is limited to a trolley-pushing walk-on, I’m bloody glad he came. As for yours truly, well I’m actually rather glad I did too. I’ve given this some thought and have decided that I would be only too happy to accept Amirpour’s kind invitation to join The Bad Batch and take considerable comfort from the fact that this delightful young lady is no longer a stranger. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the flea market to sell a wristwatch and an ankle bracelet and maybe pick up a bar of scented soap while I’m there.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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1 Comment

  1. Good appraisal, Rich! It sounds like grindhouse meets 70s revenge flick. I like the actors & the storyline sounds raw, gritty & interesting.
    I would give the Bad Batch a look.

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