There’s something intrinsically engrossing happening to my brain when watching Ana Lily Amirpour’s THE BAD BATCH. It has imagination, it has desert, it has a dystopian world equipped with an underlying realization that this could be a slight futuristic foretelling of a crumbling civilization gone severely wonky. Is this what happens when resources of our planet plateau and society has to decide who really gets to live vs survive? I know I’m projecting way the hell out there but I can’t help it. At least the desert people know how to let loose with that funky music and Keanu Reeves being the dream and all. If we do by chance end up in an apocalypse I want Keanu on my team. Come on those Elvis-chic sunglasses, the white suit, and a suave mustache, gives his character all the appeal and hot edge to survive.
First off, I have a particular attachment to films that take place in the desert, ranging from MAD MAX, THE ENGLISH PATIENT, STARGATE, and of course ZABRISKIE POINT so it wasn’t difficult for me to say no to this misfit of a film. Which brings me to my second interest; the outcast factor. Having a bunch of misfits exiled to the desert for no particular reason other than they’re different, damaged, broken, obscure, and severely flawed by society’s standards has me captivated. Do we really need a reason to comprehend the why here? Not really. It’s a dystopian world where apparently rationality has been tossed aside for something that sounds like discrimination, a familiar and unfortunate piece of fabric in our American culture. It would be interesting to see what this glorious immaculate society looked like but I have a feeling it would have driven us away from our present story here, or perhaps its intentionally left open ended because having a franchise of THE BAD BATCH would be favorable. Just saying!
Plot wise THE BAD BATCH might be considered too dry for some, thin and perhaps aimless, but then I think maybe that’s the point. To be a wanderer of the desert can be a fairly desolate journey within itself and maybe nothing insane happens (okay other than cannibalism- channeling that Donner party-vibe) which is grotesquely cool specifically how Amirpour selectively chooses some key camera angles. The whole opening sequence is setting the foundation and above all has a great hook. Our main protagonist Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is thrown into a new world where she’s literally running for her life by two people in a golf cart. Eventually she comes across a surge of characters that include Miami Man (Jason Moma), The Screamer (Giovanni Ribisi), The Dream (Keanu Reeves), Hermit (Jim Carrey) and Maria (Yolanda Ross) all with precise names which make them sound like some obscure Justice League. I love it. All infused with this dusty, western somewhat somber aesthetic which oddly enough made me think of ZABRISKIE POINT, a wonderfully undervalued Michelangelo Antonioni film that has an element of desolate chaos, mainly due to the counterculture at the time yet there’s some relatable factor in there.
Aside from the plot line, the film nails a vast undertaking in the mise en scène department; visually radiant with strident sunlight casting its presence on their handcrafted village known as “Comfort”, some intriguing, yet upbeat and sometimes humorous music, makeshift props designed and utilized out of leftovers, severely brain-fried characters walking around with shopping carts, and carrying pet bunnies and let’s not forget the laundry basket backpacks to forage for unwanted goodies all in order to survive. The brilliance is in the details. The creativity is in the details. And there were parts were I kept thinking about the infamous outdoor Noah Purifoy museum where he made art out of scraps of any kind of material left unwanted. His wonderful artwork still remains nestled in the desert somewhere, I definitely recommend inquisitive, artsy- soul hunters to check it out.
As a viewer, my mind was left pondering which is fine because I equate watching this film to looking at a Rothko painting and making my own assertions about what it means to me. This is how I approach a film that doesn’t fill every hole or unanswered question, and that’s okay I don’t need to be spoon fed every detail of the plot. I do like to use my mind every once in a while. For instance, I wonder why a certain character decides to only saw off one arm and a leg instead of just killing the person. My theory? She’s rationing her food supply. Things are scarce, makes sense to me.
There are so many distinct elements such as the comical signage where we see a stop sign except it says “GO” instead of “STOP” or the “Doctor accepts walk ins” followed by the “Gun Repair” sign next to it. The positioning is funny. This is what society looks like when law and order is averted, I imagine. Then of course there is the trippy dance-glow party, tethered to some ceremonious drug taking, as well as a slow motion sequence of body builders doing their lifting exercises, all convey an odd sense of purpose, structure, and empathy. Or perhaps this is how I imagine Burning Man to be like?
In all seriousness, what do all of these misfits have in common? A reason to live? Empathy to some extent. Take for example when Arlen is rolling around on a skateboard to escape from being eaten until she’s exhausted while about to be pecking food for the circling ravens until miraculously Hermit pushing his shopping cart comes to her rescue or when Arlen purchases a bunny for the kid “Honey” to have, it’s endearing. It’s these simple acts of compassion that signify something in this twisted world where everybody is out for themselves. You know lending a helping hand can be benefitial!
Despite their shitty situation and the crummy cards, they’ve been dealt, all highlights a purpose to make some sense out of this weird mess. Yeah life is messy we can’t plan every detail and are just left to roll with the punches and that’s precisely what these characters are grabbling with whatever’s thrown their way. I love how Giovanni Ribisi’s character “The Screamer” says, “You have to figure it out for yourself.” Meaning find your own damn reason to live and don’t forget it! I can only presume this might be the reason why The Dream has a cult like following of pregnant women, for they are biologically carrying the dream. I guess that parallels a kind of token of hope for future batches of living beings, keeping their existence intact and all. I mean why else would you have a child unless of course birth control was unavailable then again that just makes it sound like a careless accident. I’m going to attempt to keep the train of thought in the vein of optimism.
In my mind, the desert is home to me and no I don’t live in an abandoned airplane or some ransacked shed, I’m meaning in the sense of being enamored by the vast, naked, beauty such spatial land can inhibit even if careless fools discard their garbage tainting its fierce existence. Shame on them. Have you ever gazed into the night sky in the middle of the desert seeing how pockets of light unfurl, all the while contemplating your existence on a speck of a planet? No didn’t think so, you were too busy complaining about having zero Wifi access! The desert is magic people. It’s dirty, it’s tough, and summer time is a murderous storm of fire breathing down your neck incessantly reminding you of its rigorous nature. Too deep?
Anyways… to summarize…
Ana Lily Amirpour stays true to her style giving us an atmospheric soiree into another shady yet similar world just as she gave us in A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, which is a tremendous film. I don’t really care the plot was ambiguous, or the dialogue was slim, you don’t need to overdo it to capture a story. Less is more is always a key ingredient to these kinds of films and I think images speak for itself in many ways. It’s about taping into something graver aside from atmosphere, it has some thought provoking moments, where sometimes a little introspection is needed and often times doesn’t bode well on screen which usually drives the wrong audience mad. There are several instances where we see our characters just being silent, contemplating, not necessarily lunging into some impulse. They think then act, not just react. Part of what makes the film immensely striking is the weight it sways around in keeping you in the dark just as much as the characters are left to their own devices. What’s the key reason they’re known as the bad batch? Inequality. Inequality is such a huge embedded theme and it translates on screen in a very cunning way, yet no one is rebelling or angry as hell, they simply carry on accepting the way they are. Society as a whole discarded them like trash because they don’t meet some criteria to participate and have rights all for being different.