It’s unclear where The Bad Batch resides on the cultural landscape of films. Is it purely for fans of post-apocalyptic fictions? Would it be better suited to viewers who enjoy hypnotic, intimate dramas of lost people trying to survive in a strange world? Or is more for cineastes who prefer new works from visionary talents still in the early stages of their careers, especially ones who have been getting high recognition from major festivals?
Whatever it is, it certainly isn’t for aficionados of master thespian Keanu Reeves. Even though he has a rather strange, smaller role in this rather strange, small film, he nearly ruins all of the wonder and spectacle. But more on that later.
This movie takes place in a desert landscape where some people are banished to the outskirts of whatever civilization is left in America. They are the bad batch: not good enough to be acceptable citizens. These outcasts are forced to find their own way to survive where food doesn’t grow in the ground. This leads many of them to turn to cannibalism. It’s unpleasant but this is where writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour starts us all off on her cinematic journey.
Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) has just been banished and things quickly go downhill from there. See the preceding paragraph for a hint. The good news is that she’s modestly resourceful and fairly lucky in her travels otherwise. She finds herself in some decent company including Miami Man (the beefy Jason Momoa, here mostly flexing his dramatic muscles rather than his biceps). Fortunes change fast in this unforgiving world and so people’s moralities and loyalties to each other seem to be as fluid as the grains of sand in the wind.
She finds herself in some interesting company, Momoa not excluded. At one point, she gets saved from the desert floor by a bearded mute vagrant, otherwise unrecognizable as Jim Carrey, the cartoonish actor here also stretching his range to new heights. This is not a typical vehicle for either Carrey or Momoa, which is one of the big reasons to make sure you take in this two-hour plotless wandering. The only semblance of a story thread is that Miami Man is on the search for a young girl who has fallen into Arlen’s care. Watching this movie is like floating along on a cardboard box with a sail, set loose upon the cracked salt flats of Nowhere Land and you never really know where you’ll end up next. All you really know is that you’re going to get dirt in your eyes but you still have to keep them open.
Where Arlen eventually ends up is a place called Comfort, where throngs of other BB’ers rave to a techno DJ and getting some desolate indoctrination from none other than The Dream (note: actual character name, played here by Keanu Reeves). Comfort is a kind of cultville, adding another dimension to this gonzo sci-fi blast.
I’m not really sure where I stand on this landscape except to say that I was mesmerized throughout, watching the proceedings like a fly on the wall would watch the end of the world and just as curious. A large part of my fascination was with the languid visuals and trance score punctuated occasionally by pop hits from the 1980s, but usually when the cannibals are about to get a mouthful. Amirpour seems to know how to blend genres, making sure that you never quite get to be at ease even, or especially, when the movie starts to offer you something that feels good. That’s a bad sign.
And that’s the mark of a director worth noting.
So wherever you place The Bad Batch in your film catalogue, at least you can justify this film viewing choice as it won the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2016. It has only been awarded six times since 1980. That’s saying something. I’m not sure what, though, except that I would watch this again and again and preferably in the comfort of my own home, doors locked.
The Bad Batch
Starring Suki Waterhouse, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Giovanni Ribisi, Jayda Fink, Diego Luna, and Jason Momoa
Written and Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
Rated 14A for violence, coarse language and brief nudity
Runtime: 119 minutes
Playing Fri., June 23 at 7 p.m.; Sat., June 24 at 4 p.m.; and Sun., June 25 at 7 p.m.
Metro Cinema is located in the Garneau Theatre at 8712 109 St. in Edmonton
Call 780-425-9212 or visit www.metrocinema.org for more information