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The Subterranean: Flipping genres with ‘The Bad Batch’

A review of The Bad Batch

**** out of five stars

Currently available on video.

by Walter G. Tarrow

It’s astonishing how Ana Lily Amirpour flips established genre films completely on their heads.
She did it with her short Six and a Half. She totally flipped the vampire film with A Girl Walks Alone at Night. And she does it with her dystopian future Texas of deserts, cannibals and Mad Max.

The Bad Batch is Fury Road without the awesome chase sequences and caricatures of future poseurs. Where Fury is fun, Batch is harshly honest. Dystopia is not speed metal and heroes. Ana Lily don’t need no stinkin’ hero, doesn’t need, like Aunty Entity, yet another bigger than life, better than all the rest, hero.

Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is a survivor, tougher than Theron’s Furiosa. And she’s missing an arm AND a leg. Her escape from her cannibal hosts is the gutsiest thing I’ve seen on screen for quite some time.

Incidentally, the “bad batch” refers to the less fortunate, the disadvantaged, the poor, the illegals, the sick and mentally ill, who the privileged, the wealthy, the Trumpsters, have branded and numbered as BB and walled/fenced off in a desolate Southwest apart from the rest of US. It is the future we have elected, people, and it’s here already.

A number of the abandoned have accepted cannibalism as a method of survival, a life style, (and, be aware, for the weak of stomach, there are graphic depictions of the same), and it is they who occupy The Bridge which exists physically between US and The Dream (Keanu Reeves), who lords, with his perpetually impregnated entourage, over his titular oasis community with some of the comforts (their slogan is Find the Comfort) of the rest of the US such as functioning toilets. 

Arlen traverses The Bridge and finds herself in and out of The Dream. The Dream is reminiscent of the underground middle class white community in another dystopian, this one being post-apocalyptic, film of a possible future A Boy and His Dog.

Arlen wanders back out into The Bridge, takes a little girl under her wing, loses her to The Dream, wanders back out into The Bridge, is captured by Miami Man (Jason Momoa), but still manages to miss ever coming into direct contact with The Hermit ( a totally unrecognizable Jim Carrey). Throughout, Arlen survives while staying true to her principles. And she never succumbs to the easy ways out. And she never eats people. A true survivor. An honest hero.

With wide panoramic shots of an empty wasteland punctuated with the daytime cluttered cluster of human detritus that is strewn throughout The Dream and accompanied by the neon boom box head trip of its tourist destination nights, Batch compels us to feel how the homeless, the hopeless, the once Middle Class might be forced to do the evil things.

Heavily symbolic, sociopolitical and acerbic, Batch will soar over the heads of most, be hated by many and appreciated by a few.

I’m one of the few.

Here’s hoping you had a Happy Thanksgiving with many more to come

5 Comments

  • Walter, this sounds like one of “those” films that my grown son sometimes foists upon us as “good for us.” After reading your review, I look forward to seeing this one!

    • Good luck, Lynn! To be honest, this movie ain’t easy to take. As I said, most will give this film a wide berth or, if encouraged to watch it, shoot the messenger. I just happen to have a sweet spot for the courage of Amirpour’s artistic endeavors.

  • “Ana Lily don’t need no stinkin’ hero, doesn’t need, like Aunty Entity, yet another bigger than life, better than all the rest, hero.” Then what part is Jason Mamoa playing? At 6’4″ the tile character of Conan the Barbarian wouldn’t be considered larger that life? He is smaller than Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson, but he seems like all the beef they could afford for this $6,000,000 picture. The budget I guess qualifies it as smaller than life? Certainly the box office of $180,000 consigns it to the straight to video section but I doubt that was where they were aiming.

    Back to Mamoa — also cast as Aquaman & in Game of Thrones was Khal Drogo.

    Isn’t Kenau Reeves playing Aunty Entity? You’ll have to help me here, I don’t think I’ll ever get beyond the trailer. And this is the worst grossing movie Jim Carrey has ever made. And that includes Earthgirls Are Easy. I’d think even he realized how much of a dog he was in and asked for more make-up to hide behind.

    A customer on Amazon (and at $4 per rental its going to be a long time recovering the lost $6 million) commented ‘Total B movie that shows just how far Jim Carrey and Keanu Reeves have fallen in Hollywood.’ Just slightly better rated than “Leatherface” (the attempt to remake Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) which seems to be the genre Ana Lily Amirpour is shooting for.

    And since it was shot in 2014 I think “Trumpsters” is just a gratuitous shot. Trying to give relevance to another pretentious film festival movie? That might be a column for the future, and I don’t mean the Traverse City FF, but aren’t these big name festivals designed to (forgive the word) SELL a movie to an audience? To the Academy? To Critics (a necessary evil), film artists (actors & actresses, directors, cinematographers, etc. or should that be called the film industry?) for self-congratulatory applause, and last but certainly not least FILM DISTRIBUTORS?

    Just a random question do you think Texas will cede a square yard to anybody?

  • Hey, AuldSchool, thanks for the comments. I keep throwing these review turds out there and it’s nice to get feedback even if it’s just to complain about the stink.
    Jason Momoa is, at best, an anti-hero, and surprisingly, contrary to his massive muscular presence, has quite a vulnerable side. He is a father, a provider, has artistic talent, but, as a survivor living in The Bridge, has committed to certain dietary choices, if you know what I mean.
    As for the distribution strategy, the low budget consignment to direct to video, and the comparison to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Amirpour is a dying breed of indie filmmaker. Ironically, Netflix, while almost totally ignoring movies made before 1970, might be the last refuge for truly independent art filmmaking. Outside of art houses and film festivals in big urban centers, these films are now rarely getting distributors. So being exhibited at one of those venues is not necessarily designed to get theater distribution nowadays, but rather nothing more than being shown to an art crowd audience and, hopefully, a deal from a small video company or maybe even Netflix.
    And a comparison to Chainsaw is both right and wrong. This is not a remake, or any sort of reimagining, of Chainsaw. Amirpour may be doing something of a take on elements of that franchise, but her films, as I said in my review, flip genres. A simple comparison to Chainsaw is just that. Simple without seeing the deeper artistry and meanings of her effort. Like The Wizard of Oz was a story of a homicidal teen taking a group of random disabled outcasts on a serial killing spree.
    Keanu is not Aunty Entity but he is The Dream like the aforementioned Wizard of Oz and his realm is also called The Dream. And I believe Carrey was attracted to this project because he had artistic freedoms he rarely gets elsewhere and was part of something creative and out of the ordinary, just like he is.
    Bottom line is, in a project like this, that very bottom line, the profit motive, is not of importance. Art for art’s sake, either you get it or you don’t. Contrary to the album from The Mothers of Invention, Ana Lily is NOT “only in it for the money.”
    And, yes, “Trumpsters” was a gratuitous shot. Just seeing who might take the bait.
    And, you’re right, Amirpour’s entire premise falls apart because Texas would never cede an inch.

  • Only comparison to Chainsaw was the recommendation by Amazon, ‘Customers who watched this item also watched’ recommended recent Chainsaw remake of “Leatherface.” Hardly the art film audience. From the sound of your review it seems to fall into the post apocalytic world of Mad Max and from the Aunty Entity — MM Beyond Thunderdome. Maybe the Road is a better comparison to Bad Batch, in mood anyway. It was not much fun either. And again the Road almost recouped its production costs.

    While profit may not be the motive, losing 97% of your investment hardly seems a way to keep working (or producing art). Dying breed is one thing a 3% return seems like suicide.

    There are plenty of art film directors who can make something someone wants to see. And that is really what ticket revenues are — people voting on whether a film is worth it to them.

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