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Weekend Watch: ‘The Bad Batch’ Is Your Next Dystopian Nightmare

Where to Stream

The Bad Batch

Weekend Watch is here for you. Every Friday we’re going to recommend the best of what’s new to rent on VOD or stream for free. It’s your weekend; allow us to make it better. 

What to Stream This Weekend

Movie: The Bad Batch
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Starring: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Giovanni Ribisi
Available on: Amazon Video and iTunes

We’re at a time here in America where it’s easy to play out the string to some disturbingly plausible futures. Apocalyptic and dystopian fiction is a boom economy right now, in part because there’s no shortage of ways — environmental, fascistic, biological — in which we can envision our society going real bad, real fast. Director Ana Lily Amirpour showed a talent for talking about social issues through the guise of intense immersion into genre with her acclaimed debut film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which commented on rape culture through the guise of black-and-white vampire horror. That film was a sensation, a perfect distillation of elemental horror delivered stylishly and with the energizing flair of a new directorial talent.

I’m not sure I’d call The Bad Batch an example of a sophomore slump, but the dusty dystopia of Amirpour’s post-society wasteland feels like a lot of style squandered on a story that doesn’t warrant it. The concept is communicated obliquely but enough for the audience to get the gist: sometime in the near future, society’s undesirables are sent out to an area past the Texas border where American jurisdiction and American protection no longer applies. Is this Mexico? Is this a part of Texas we gave up on? Unclear. But the allusions to calls for a wall along the southern border to keep undesirables out of Donald Trump’s America are impossible to miss. This won’t be the last time The Bad Batch will make you think of immigration politics, though to its credit, it doesn’t spend the whole movie bashing you over the head about it. Not when there are so many limbs to be severed! Because into this lawless land is thrown Arlen (Suki Waterhouse). Why she has been banished from America is never clarified, but she’s marked “Bad Batch” and sent out into the desert. It’s not long before she’s descended upon by two vandals in a golf cart and abducted. Bad news becomes worse for Arlen as her abductors turn out to be cannibals, who chop off her arm and leg before she passes out.

Arlen’s dismemberment is harrowing, her escape is filmed with suspense and more than a little dark comedy, and her refuge in a pop-up community known as Comfort is a little fascinating. By the time we see Arlen wheeling across the frame, lying face-up on a skateboard, making her escape, The Bad Batch looks like it might be a nightmare vision with a bit of a twinkle in its eye. Unfortunately, Amirpour and her cast can’t really keep up the momentum.

The film flashes forward to five months after Arlen is taken to Comfort. She’s got a prosthetic leg and a decent living situation. But then she spots a woman scavenging a garbage pile outside of the camp with her daughter; the woman reminds her of the cannibals who attacked her months ago; Arlen takes her revenge. From this point, it becomes very easy to see where this is all going. The little girl’s father is played by Jason Momoa, the bronze mountain of a man who you might know from Game of Thrones or the upcoming Justice League (he plays Aquaman). He’s a brutal character, but we’ve seen him being sweet to his daughter, so we know There’s Goodness In Him. Similarly, Arlen did a bad thing but She Had Her Reasons. The movie takes its time going through the motions of bringing Momoa’s character and Arlen together, and it doesn’t seem to be overly concerned that the audience hasn’t been given much reason to look forward to their meeting.

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The rest of the movie takes the form of meandering looks at the Comfort camp, a kind of carnival town managed by a messianic Keanu Reeves. He brings the townspeople security and rave music (does that DJ look a lot like Rogue One‘s Diego Luna being wasted in a nothing role? It is!). There’s stylishness in the way that everything is filmed — Lyle Vincent’s cinematography is to be applauded — but there’s not much to hang onto. The same can be said of Jim Carrey’s near-unrecognizable cameo as a mud-caked drifter. Also? Not for nothing, but if Amirpour was able to attract these “name” cast members to her project, maybe it would have been worthy to wait until Riley Keough was available to play the lead role, as Waterhouse is able to cut a dynamic figure against the desert backdrop but otherwise can’t hang as an actress.

Still and all, Amirpour delivers a bold vision, and when Momoa’s character (if you think I should just start using his name, he’s called “Miami Man” in the credits, so he might as well have been called Momoa’s Character) reveals that he was sent away as Bad Batch because he was an undocumented immigrant from Cuba, the films horrors become much more immediate. There’s an intelligence behind The Bad Batch, and clearly a surplus of creativity. For all its narrative disappointments, The Bad Batch is also the sign of a director whose future work is still incredibly promising.

Where to stream The Bad Batch

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