Ana Lily Amirpour‘s The Bad Batch is the “most keenly exhilarating movie I’ve seen at the Venice Film Festival, and as of this moment my favorite American picture of 2016,” declares Glenn Kenny at RogerEbert.com. “Its vision of its heroine will no doubt inspire reams of feminist consideration, and rightly so. I was thrilled by the film on purely cinematic terms. Amirpour can choreograph and shoot scenes of grotesque brutality like nobody’s business, but her command of pacing and composition really sets her apart. For such an incident-packed movie, it’s full of long pauses within striking framings. Some scenes feel like Sergio Leone out of Jim Jarmusch. Her senses of pop and pulp are also exquisite; she’s like the more nuanced heir to Quentin Tarantino that Tarantino himself could never have imagined. To carry that analogy further (not that I want to carry it too far), this movie should be Amirpour’s Reservoir Dogs: a notice that she has arrived, and that it’s her time now.” On the other hand, here’s Jessica Kiang at The Playlist:
Consider, for a moment, a lesser Mad Max: Fury Road. Now consider a greater Southland Tales. Now drive out, preferably on a clapped-out scooter or a souped-up golf cart, into the Saharan expanse of quality that still exists between those two things, find the exact midpoint and plant a flag for Ana Lily Amirpour‘s second feature The Bad Batch, a film that frustratingly contains a good, or at least a fun movie, without actually being a good, or a particularly fun, movie. There’s hope, to be sure: a snip-happy re-edit of the exact footage that unfurled at its Venice premiere could maybe deliver exactly the rip-roaring, grotesque, 85-minute grindhouse nasty we all hoped that the director of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night would turn in for her sophomore feature, but the 112-minute version plays instead like an unnecessary, long-after-the-fact, extended cut of that film. The perils of the broader-canvas follow-up to the sleek and economical indie debut are writ large: this is Difficult Second Album: The Movie.
For Variety‘s Guy Lodge, in the age of Trump—because, after all, whether he wins or loses in November, this is the age of Trump—”the science-fiction conceit of The Bad Batch—in which an assortment of supposed undesirables is exiled to a fenced-off desert wasteland past the Texas border—doesn’t sound all that dystopian. After her terrific freshman effort A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night slipped some intersectional feminism into its slinky modern vampire tale, writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour’s glossed-up follow-up once more weaves independent identity politics into a stylish, blood-spattered mash-up of genres, from cannibal exploitation to spaghetti western. The result, while far busier than Amirpour’s debut, somehow seems to have less going on inside: Though there’s much to savor in the pic’s lavishly distressed visuals and soundscape, its narrative feels increasingly stretched and desultory.” In the Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney grants that “the movie is overlong and not without draggy patches, but it’s sustained enough to keep you watching.” For one thing, it “looks sensational. Cinematographer Lyle Vincent—he also worked with Amirpour on A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, as did editor Alix O’Flinn and customer Natalie O’Brien—gives even the pastels a sinister glow in the vast desert skies over parched, flat ground, at one point whipped by a dust storm…. But the sharpest tool in the movie’s arsenal is its soundtrack, which makes extensive use of Chilean sonic duo Darkside, along with tracks from South African hip-hop concept band Die Antwoord, synthwave exponent Jordan Lieb, who records and performs as Black Light Smoke, and indie ambient purveyor Francis Harris.” Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn adds that “the evolution in production is particularly notable from the addition of a few recognizable faces. In only a handful of scenes without a single line of dialogue, Jim Carrey is virtually unrecognizable as a mute nomad pushing a shopping cart around the desert and shifting allegiances as he watches various dramas from afar…. Tackling a more prominent role, Keanu Reeves takes on much greater prominence in the film’s uneven final third, as a psychedelically-charged Jim Jones-like spiritual leader.”
“The symbolism here is literally signposted, with directions reading ‘This Is Not Real,'” notes John Bleasdale at CineVue, “and there are numerous references to dreams—perhaps to explain the dreaminess of the pace—but fantasies aren’t this dull and can even be interpreted so as to mean something.” “It’s like taking a trip to Burning Man,” finds Rory O’Connor at the Film Stage: “a pseudo-spiritual, uniquely punky experience perhaps, but one that’s full of annoying rich kids and ultimately emotionally shallow.” Screen‘s Lee Marshall: “Cool production design, cool soundtrack, cool tattoos; shame about the script.” The Bad Batch is competing in Venice and will screen in Toronto‘s Vanguard program.
Updates: Let’s piece together a sketch of what actually happens in The Bad Batch. We begin with the Guardian‘s Andrew Pulver: “Leading the way is Suki Waterhouse as Arlen, an apparently wholesome individual who is tossed out of the United States into the Mexican desert in the film’s opening scene: she is one of the unwanted ‘bad batch,’ inferior citizenry who are no longer wanted. After briefly wandering the arid flats, she is kidnapped and taken to an encampment called The Bridge, filled with bulked-up steroid abusers; in short order, she is chained up and two of her limbs severed for food… It’s a brilliant opening sequence: unwatchably nasty, effortlessly filmed and freighted with ominous meaning.” “In order to escape she slathers herself in shit, smacks her captor over the head with a metal bar and skateboards to safety,” writes Katherine McLaughlin at Little White Lies. “A drifter then finds her lying in the punishing sun and leads her to a makeshift town called Comfort, which is secured by cargo containers and a large fence. Five months later Arlen has settled into her new home and been gifted a prosthetic leg, but she soon starts to question Comfort’s moral fiber and wanders off in search of something else.” “Arlen’s quest for revenge lumbers her with unexpected and unofficial custody of a young girl whose father is Miami Man (Jason Momoa),” writes the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin. “This sets up a wasteland manhunt in the style of Mad Max: Fury Road—and as an amputee heroine surviving on her wits, Arlen has more than a touch of Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. But The Bad Batch is less interested in momentum than mood, and the film moves at a kind of narcotized lope towards a destination that fuzzes and coheres with every step.” Five out of five stars.
Deadline‘s Mike Fleming Jr. reports that “Netflix is closing a deal for the SVOD rights.”
Update, 9/8: “It’s probably going to be a pretty close run between Damien Chazelle and Ana Lily Amirpour this year, what with The Bad Batch and La La Land being up there as probable candidates for the best films at both Venice and Toronto,” finds Thomas Humphrey at Screen Anarchy.
Update, 9/9: “The first half-hour is A-grade B-movie,” writes Raphael Abraham for the Financial Times. “Latterly the film gets lost in its desert milieu but it has all the makings of a cult favorite.”
Update, 9/10: “So low-key it’s nearly no-key, Bad Batch’s design is far more curational than dramaturgical, allowing Amirpour to fuse hazy memories of The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and the denouement of A Boy and His Dog (1975) with a perverse penchant for Ace of Base,” writes José Teodoro for CinemaScope. “Some of this is quite charming or clever, and none of it has any momentum whatsoever. One gets a distinct impression that we’re not supposed to care, and by the meandering third act we dutifully comply.” “Gossamer-thin storytelling in service of intoxicating wilderness atmosphere is usually my jam,” writes Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times, “but inside this not-so-bad batch of splendid atmospherics and half-baked ideas, a shorter, better movie is trying to chew its way out.” Still, The Bad Batch has won this year’s Special Jury Prize.
Update, 9/12: “The Bad Batch is a bracing vision of post-apocalyptic America that’s also terribly stilted and sometimes downright silly,” writes Tim Grierson for Paste. “Individual moments are arresting, but as a whole, the movie strains for its ideas to be as compelling as its visuals.”
Update, 9/13: “Too much of this project feels half-baked, like notes in a journal that needed to be formed into something more concrete,” finds Brian Tallerico at RogerEbert.com.
Update, 9/14: “It’s one of those movies that plays like they simply filmed the director’s notebooks rather than a script,” writes Flavorwire‘s Jason Bailey. “I admire her ambition and her commitment to a gonzo style; she finds plenty of evocative moments and clever touches, but they just don’t add up to much of anything.”
Updates, 9/15: “As in Girl, Amirpour betrays a chiefly cosmetic interest in the genre,” writes the AV Club‘s, A.A. Dowd. “The Tarantino influence is even more pronounced this time… QT, of course, usually delivers a few thrills to go with his relentless homaging, while nothing much disrupts the chic narcotism of Amirpour’s gaze.” And Variety‘s Dave McNary reports that Screen Media Films has picked up US rights.
Update, 9/16: For RogerEbert.com, Tina Hassannia talks with Amirpour “about being in the Iranian diaspora, her refutation that Bad Batch is post-apocalyptic, and casting Jim Carrey as a dirty bearded man.”
Update, 9/24: “The film never manages to develop itself beyond a surface appeal,” finds Luke Gorham at In Review Online, “and it ultimately works as little more than an amalgam of fanboy curiosa.” The 2016 fall film festival indexes: Venice, Telluride, and Toronto.