The Bad Batch opens with an institutional announcement over the title screens, alerting guards to exercise utmost caution around ‘bad batch’ prisoners. Once we are finally given a picture to go with the dire, looping announcement, we see an absurdly beautiful girl (Suki Waterhouse) in semi-tomboy attire, locked behind a chain-linked fence by two prison guards. This is our criminal and this is her punishment. Deposited into a desert wasteland in permanent exile.
In the abandoned terrain, a speck on the horizon turns into a golf cart that mercilessly runs the new arrival down. Waking chained and dazed in a tent-city, our heroine is swiftly amputated by a rough-haired, pot-bellied, older woman with a ferocity that really is disturbing. The girl, whose name is Arlen, soon escapes, but this exposition is the last time the movie is thrilling or focused.
Director, Ana Lily Amirpour, shot to low-key indie prominence with A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a movie delighted by its sui generis trappings— a black-and-white, Iranian, vampire Western. It is surely the best of its kind! But despite its affectations, it was self-assured and inspired enough to not be dismissed, if not altogether memorable.
That first movie was distributed by Vice, but with The Bad Batch, they are now producers, and their marketing fingerprints are all over it. Social critique in the form of lazy hypotheticals. Grit as a facsimile of truth.
This story revolves around two encampments that evolved in the desert’s anarchy: The Bridge, where they eat people and body-build, turning into a unwieldy, homoerotic totems of musculature, and Comfort, where a mostly peaceful order scavenges through America’s kitschy wreckage, eat street noodles, and indulge in the occasional rave. It’s like a couple episodes of Vice TV were scrambled together and left out to get half-baked in the desert sun.
The movie congeals into a halfhearted plot around the loss and quest to retrieve a daughter of a certain resident of The Bridge played by Jason Momoa. This one demonstrates his humanity through his love for said daughter and a pencil-sketching habit, but otherwise spends his days eating people and beefing up. If this were a joke about the daughter-loving he-man type, I’d think it were funny, but I really don’t think it is.
That’s the main takeaway of this movie though: “This would be funny if this were a joke… I think.” Otherwise, it just seems lost in its references. It has hints of the resource-driven desert movie like Mad Max (but none of the narrative economy or pacing). It has Manson-esque sister wives with middle parts and automatic rifles. It has a cult, a hip soundtrack, and fake southern accents.
In an effort to offer coherence, most critics seem to name check Trump in their responses. But only insofar as dopey bravado and total incoherence are also characteristic of Trump, might I connect that man to this movie. Otherwise, take it lightly, lest you allow yourself, once again, to become the punch line.