The Bad Batch is the first follow-up to Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut vampire western A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, and it couldn’t be more different. While it retains the spaghetti-western influences that defined her debut, The Bad Batch’s Burning Man-meets-the-apocalypse aesthetic marks a remarkable shift in tone, atmosphere, and style.
We’re thrown into the bonkers world of The Bad Batch right alongside our protagonist Arlen (Suki Waterhouse). Apparently, Trump’s dystopian vision for America has caught on. The country has decided to throw all of its “undesirables” into a vaguely post-apocalyptic Texas wasteland. After being detained for an unrevealed crime, Arlen is tattooed with her bad batch identification number and thrust into a neon-soaked world of body building cannibals. Very little time passes before said cannibals capture Arlen and bring her back to their settlement, The Bridge. Arlen finds herself on the wrong end of butcher’s cleaver, losing an arm and a leg to the cannibals in excessively gory fashion.
Luckily, Arlen manages to escape and find refuge in Comfort, a small town run by a drug dealing cult figure named The Dream (Keanu Reeves). A few months pass and Arlen still mourns the loss of her limbs. One day whilst exploring the wasteland, Arlen happens upon two residents from The Bridge: a mother and daughter. One thing leads to another, and Arlen finds herself as the caretaker of the young girl. Trouble is, the girl’s dad, an enigmatic muscular artist (and fellow cannibal) named Miami Man (Jason Momoa), is in hot pursuit of Arlen, desperate to get his daughter back.
After setting this up to be the main conflict of the film, The Bad Batch pulls a bait and switch and throws Arlen and Miami man together, forcing them to work together to survive in the wasteland. As it so happens, Arlen and Miami turn out to be quite the duo. Arlen set on hating Miami due to his kind, yet finding herself inexplicably drawn to him. The strong performances from both Waterhouse and Momoa are what make the pair so engaging. The two have genuine chemistry together, which makes up for how underwritten the characters are.
The performances in The Bad Batch are top notch across the board. Giovanni Ribisi is hilarious as a deranged citizen of Comfort. Keanu Reeves proves to be equally charming and creepy as the absurdly named The Dream. Jim Carrey also makes a brief and unrecognizable cameo appearance as a hermit who wanders the wasteland. The time spent with the hermit is brief, but he manages to steal every scene he is in.
While Momoa remains the standout performance in a film full of fantastic actors, I do have to take issue with his casting. Minor spoilers follow. Miami Man is given his bad batch moniker due to being an illegal immigrant from Cuba. He speaks in a thick Cuban accent and alternates between Spanish and English. Thing is, Jason Momoa is not of any Latinx descent. He visually looks the part, but I find it hard to believe Amirpour could not find someone of Latinx descent to play the part. Latinx actors already get the short end of the stick when it comes to leading roles in Hollywood. If Amirpour was set on Momoa in the role, it would’ve been simple to change his backstory. Nevertheless, this uncomfortable nitpick doesn’t take away from the quality of the film as a whole.
The Bad Batch is light in both narrative and dialogue, electing to focus on visual storytelling and vibe. Hell, Keanu Reeves has maybe five minutes of screen time but probably has the most lines of dialogue. The majority of the film is centered on Miami Man and Arlen quietly wandering the desert, backed by quite the eclectic soundtrack. However, this plays to the strengths of Amirpour as a director, as Bad Batch is visually stunning. In this way, I was reminded of last year’s The Neon Demon. Both films rely on a sort of “vibe” to carry the film, to varying degrees of success. While film drags on a little too long and fumbles the narrative a bit (especially towards the end), The Bad Batch still manages to be an engrossing, psychedelic, and darkly comedic experience.