Ana Lily Amirpour is one of the most exciting new voices in cinema – at least, based on her debut, the eerie and visually stunning A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. With her sophomore film, The Bad Batch, she is working with a larger budget, a few name actors and a more expansive storyline. For a while, the picture works in an offbeat way – it’s an occasionally grim dystopian action-horror movie that often goes off on dreamy tangents and – at other points – slows the story¬†way¬†down. I have no complaints about any of this.

But, ultimately, the film feels as if it has less of a voice than her startling debut and its lead, Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), never materializes into a fully formed character. Then again, neither do the film’s villain, Miami Man (Jason Momoa), or The Dream, an odd messiah-like figure played by Keanu Reeves who operates a run-down safe space in the desert known as Comfort. And the film’s ending completely turned me off. Without giving too much away, the picture culminates in a scene that is the equivalent of a battered woman having Stockholm Syndrome toward her abuser.

However, until that point, The Bad Batch has some transfixing elements. As the picture opens, Arlen has been cast out into the desert as a member of the titular group – which are, essentially, society’s outcasts, who have been forced to live on their own in the desert. We never get a glimpse of society, but we can assume its barbarity is equal, in some respects, to the desert’s denizens by the fact that they have barricaded themselves and left others to fend for themselves.

No sooner is Arlen left on her own than she is kidnapped by a group of cannibals – led by Miami Man – who quickly saw off her leg and arm for food. She manages to break away and finds herself wheeling through the desert on her back on a skateboard. She’s discovered by an old bum and he takes her to Comfort.

Arlen manages to get revenge on one of her previous captors, but as a result is stuck with a young girl, who follows her to Comfort. Meanwhile, Miami Man – the young girl’s father – finds Arlen stoned out of her mind in the desert one night – don’t ask – and tells her that she’d better find his daughter or else. Reeves’ The Dream – who holds raves in the desert and surrounds himself with women whom he has impregnated and wear t-shirts that read “The Dream Is Inside Me.”

All of this material could have made for a better movie and, for a while, the picture’s combination of grim violence mixed with dream-like sequences equal an interesting concoction. But as I’d mentioned, it never adds up to much thematically, Waterhouse’s character is severely underwritten and the ending left a bad taste in my mouth. But The Bad Batch is further proof that Amirpour has talent. Her films cast spells – especially her transfixing debut – and my hope is that her next venture puts her talents to better use.

 

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