Cut us open and we’re all meat, just mounds of muscle and bones that walk and talk, fuck and fight, act and react. Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch is a perfect illustration of this as the world’s batch of undesirables are sent off to a land adjacent to Texas in order to fend off for their lives. It’s either kill or be-killed and in the film’s opening sequence Arlen (Sukin Waterhouse) is kidnapped, assaulted, mutilated, and partially devoured by the residents of The Bridge, a desert shantytown built from airplane remnants inhabited by a legion of cannibalistic bodybuilders whose lives revolve around beef, the main source by which they establish their muscular fortitude and their position as the apex predator of this malign land.
No one’s good around these lands and they even have the tattoo to prove it, gradations of morality are definitely existent but there’s a reason this film is called The Bad Batch. In this vast desert territory, we’re introduced to two settlements, that of The Bridge, the land inhabited by muscle-clad cannibals I mentioned earlier, and Comfort, a tribe of drug-crazed individuals enslaved by a patriarchal cult leader revered as The Dream (Keanu Reeves with a handlebar mustache) who has women wear t-shirts that read “You can’t enter The Dream until The Dream enters you.” As a matter of fact, this whole land seems as if America had surrounded Burning Man with a fence and forced them to live there forever with no sense of purpose as their bourgeois superficialities dissolve into dust. As odd as it may seem, Arlen, a girl that seems more party-girl bad than murderer bad, realizes this in her drug-induced trance. As she ponders the celestial heavens and abandons Comfort, the senselessness showers over her and as she has her epiphany she receives a wake-up call from the brutal reality that surrounds her perfectly manifested by the muscular voluminosity of Miami Man (Jason Mamoa).
When I watched Amirpour’s last film, a Farsi-vampire-western I was equally shocked and in love. I was shocked by the storytelling but fell in love with the style, with the music, and with the soul of this new creative hurricane I had uncovered. Naturally I was invested in whatever she was working on next and when I heard it was this weird cannibalistic love story, I was more than psyched. Fast-forward to me watching the film and I’m dazed by technical majesty that manages to capture the beauty in both Amirpour’s romantic soul and the vicious nature of the land she’s portraying. Watching Badlands recently made me finally realize what Amirpour was actually doing by painting human violence with natural beauty side-by-side. A theme that is most identifiable amidst our leading couple of Miami Man and Arlen, where’s there is clearly a romantic vision of the two but also a palpable sensation that this couple is one conformed by both predator and prey.
If anything you should watch The Bad Batch because there’s nothing like it out there, seriously when is the next time you’ll see Jim Carrey star as a hilarious mute savior of the desert and Keanu Reeves as a drug-loving cult leader, and Diego Luna as the embodiment of Nicolas Jaar. The film is truly something wild that manages to speak about our primal nature yet comments on how hard we self-indulge in pretending to be at one with ourselves when doing the exact opposite by faking to be at one with a version of ourselves we’ve fabricated. In Ana Lily Amirpour’s beautiful desert drone she enhances our vision by presenting us with the most raw version of the world she could ever imagine and it’s an unquestionably enchanting nightmare.