The Bad Batch [USA, 2O16]

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Nick Cabelli for Cinetalk.net

The Bad Batch follow the trials and tribulations of a [mostly] unnamed female protagonist in a cordoned-off section of Texas treated as some sort of laissez faire penal colony, where a bunch of genderfluid body builders survive off cannibalizing their prisoners. The Bad Batch is like a mean Escape from New York in the desert which somehow aims to address ethics and the social construction of morality but which gets distracted by babes, hunks, drugs and romance. The Bad Batch is full of style, attitude and personality, but is emotionally all over the place and narratively meandering. Parts of The Bad Batch are boring and pretentious, and yet it is a film with some new and interesting ideas and memorable characters. A standout scene features the demi-cannibalized protagonist suffering silently through some body-image issues, but like a wandering Philip K Dick book, it might be more enjoyable to remember the interesting parts of this film months from now than to actually enjoy yourself while watching it.

The main character [Suki Waterhouse [Love, Rosie, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies]—who says one line in the first half hour, and whose name is revealed only about twenty minutes from the end—serves as a guide through the lawless wasteland. Along the way she encounters Miami Man [Jason Momoa, Stargate: Atlantis, Aquaman, Khal fucking Drogo on Game of Thrones], and a host of other strange wasteland characters: Giovanni Ribisi as a wandering, babbling, stereotypical ‘crazy person’ with no character development; Keanu Reeves as The Dream, the megalomaniac leader of a shifty party cult; and an unrecognizable Jim Carrey as a silent, wandering hermit.

Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour [who also wrote and directed A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night] The Bad Batch is a stylistically impressive film but which stares at its own navel too often: scenes and characters are emotionally detached, and the tone of the film shifts from tense horror film to romantic drama via magical realism. Many scenes plod along slowly and last too long, and the film often relies on montages far too close to the visual sizzle of slick corporate music videos. While the first fifteen-minutes of The Bad Batch sets its tone as a tense, mean and unpredictable film, this intensity is not sustainable and it quickly falls into a tonally-warped smorgasboard which relies more and more on clichés and conventional storytelling as it goes on. Around the one-hour mark, the plot began, I guess. Another hour later, the film ended.

The Bad Batch is produced in partnership between Megan Ellison—the billionaire’s daughter who since 2O11 has produced Oscar-nominated films Zero Dark Thirty, Her and American Hustle—and VICE—as their first English-language feature, another new expansion of the VICE media empire following the injection of nearly 5OO$ million USD by Disney and 21st Century Fox since 2O13. The pedigree is there, and The Bad Batch is largely a great looking movie rife with hip cultural references [Ace of Base, mystery villain is transparent copy of Killer Bob from OG Twin Peaks, cassettes, goofy song [Karma Chameleon] during brutal violence a la Reservoir Dogs, a Rubixcube [product placement?], Die Antwoord, cold wave,] dogs humping and for good measure a badtrip in the desert too, why not. And don’t worry: they do have turntables, photocopiers, manufactured cigarettes and outdoor raves in the penal zone.

Horror movies position the viewer as both the cause and recipient of the fear and anxiety. Whatever awful things are happening to the characters, they are happening to please the audience, who can stop the violence at any time by simply leaving the theatre, or stopping the film. However much we may sympathize with the characters, we are complicit in their miseries, and our position as audience is forever alternating between those two simultaneous roles of butcher and witness, hangman and vigil. While all horror films benefit from this anxiety, few address it directly and The Bad Batch is no different in that regard. The Bad Batch reaps all the excitement and thrills of violence without taking much time to bother saying anything about it, and by the time it ends the film seems to have forgotten it was violent at all.

Is that irony, or brainwashing?

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