The Bad Batch (2016, USA)
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour (b.1976, UK)
Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour
Women in the crew: Shahrzad Davani (1st assistant director, co-producer.); Samantha Housman, Jillian Longnecker, Louise Runge, Samantha Scher (co-producers); Megan Ellison (executive producer); Tracey Landon (line producer); Justine Arteta, Kim Davis-Wagner (casting); Lisa Son (set design); Natalie O’Brien (costume design);Wednesday Standley (production supervisor). Also across art, make-up, visual effects, and sound departments
Available to stream: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/the-bad-batch Not available for purchase in the UK on DVD.
This review contains **SPOILERS**
The Bad Batch is a genre mash, with just enough SF for me to be able to add a film by the brilliant Iranian (UK-born, Iranian heritage, US-raised) Ana Lily Amirpour. It is a horror-SF-western hybrid about a wasteland dystopian future where a young woman battles cannibals for survival. The movie focuses on marginalised figures at the edges of society, through the experiences of a young woman lead-character. This same approach won her accolades both from the public and critics for her excellent debut film, the Iranian-vampire-western A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.
The Bad Batch, despite its schlocky exploitation/grindhouse movie aesthetics, is a rather artistic film that uses the genre form and style to explore issues of the mismatch between the US ideals and ethics and the reality of equality and under-supported public social services. The first 20 minutes are almost entirely without dialogue, leaving us to draw our own conclusions. We are slowly introduced to and drawn into an imagined future Texas that is split between those who live by cynical violence and those who follow selfish escapism.
“Just because I give you something to look at, doesn’t mean I’m telling you what to see.”– Ana Lily Amirpour
Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is seen abandoned in a lawless Texas wasteland that literally fences off the titular bad batch of miscreants from (we presume) the rest of civilisation. This is her story of survival. Amirpour explains that her films are built around the lead women—in this case, a figure with missing limbs that was the starting point for the film’s development. As she explains: “we all get chopped up by the things that happen to us. We’re all Arlens hobbling around this crazy, chaotic universe, just trying to figure it out.” First Arlen (with two arms and two legs) comes across the Bridge People, led by the Miami Man (Jason Mamoa), who literally consume any outsiders. Several of Arlen’s limbs are then severed and served as food. But she does manage to kill her captor and drag herself away to a sort of freedom. With the help of an almost unrecognisable Jim Carrey (The Hermit), Arlen is carried to Comfort—an oasis of escapism in the desert with its overlord The Dream (Keanu Reeves) and his gun-wielding harem of pregnant women.
“You can’t enter the dream until the dream enters you”
– The Dream/Reeves
Comfort is an absurdly decadent experience of gardens, nubile concubines and drugs (opiate for the masses). The two ‘tribes’ act symbolically as representations of US culture, on one side the cannibalistic nature of capitalist societies that have convinced the most underprivileged in society that they must feed off the weakness of others in order to survive and protect their own. And on the other, a privileged class that benefits from the distraction of the masses and maintains power through promises and nostalgia. Amirpour’s film also imagines a dystopian alternative where we take the blue pill and “readily fool ourselves into thinking that we can escape into some utopia”. We buy into the lie that because ‘we’ are okay it doesn’t matter what is happening to others outside of our seemingly safe and contained world. As wealthy countries begin to emerge out of the lockdowns and vaccination programmes, we see the disparity between nations and their access to healthcare. In our island bubbles we begin to see hope whilst often forgetting that “until we are all safe, no one is safe”.
Although The Bad Batch was made and received its festival premier before Donald Trump became US president, the film responds to the increasingly isolationist American ideals that place the few over the plight of the many. Border walls and immigrant internment camps might make certain people feel like America is great again, but this is mostly an exercise in actively ignoring and hiding the problems rather than confronting them. The Bridge People are open about their aggressively consumerist approach to survival, whereas The Dream uses promises, distractions, and illusions of utopia to maintain power and ignore/obscure the reality outside of the Comfort zone.
“If you put Alice in Wonderland and Predator into one of the pods from The Fly, you’d have my movie”
– Ana Lily Amirpour
The narrative in The Bad Batch is sparse. But it is a stunning film in many respects, including desert cinematography created in collaboration between Amirpour and Lyle Vincent, whom she also worked with on A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Again the Western genre and specifically the work of Sergio Leone is a key reference point. The lighting and colour saturation set-up for each tribe were also carefully chosen, as Vincent explains: “The cannibals were very primal. For them, we used saturated reds and oranges, with oil-drum fires everywhere. Then for Comfort, we used more of a neon wash of blues and greens.” The visual storytelling is exquisite in a way that the script cannot match. It is in the sections that rely on aesthetics and not dialogue that I was particularly engaged with the film. I can’t wait to see where Amirpour takes us next and what genres she will play with!
“I’m not making films to prove that reality exists. I’m trying to go into another altered state.”
– Ana Lily Amirpour
I hope that as this project goes on that we will get to include more work from non-Anglo-American filmmakers. We recently added Arati Kadav, an Indian filmmaker, to our list and already have features from women working in a number of European countries including the UK (Ngozi Onwurah), Lithuania (Kristina Buožytė), Switzerland (Dea Gjinovci), and Ireland (Neasa Hardiman). If you know of any further examples of women filmmakers directing either feature or short films that can be considered non-Anglo-American or diasporic (as Amirpour is) please let me know either through the contact form or via Twitter.
What to watch next from Ana Lily Amirpour:
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Amirpour has directed episodes of major SF/Fantasy shows:
Castle Rock (season 1: episode 8 ‘Past Perfect)
Legion (‘Chapter 10’)
The Twilight Zone (S2:E4 ‘Ovation’ and S1:E4 ‘A Traveler’)
Lindsey Decker (2018), Cut Throat Women Profile: Ana Lily Amirpour https://www.cutthroatwomen.org/decker/ana-lily-amirpour
Nicolas Rapold (2017). Interview: Ana Lily Amirpour for Film Comment https://www.filmcomment.com/blog/interview-ana-lily-amirpour-2/
Kaitlyn Tiffany (2017). Ana Lily Amirpour on romance in the desert and the racial controversy over her new film, The Bad Batch. The Verge. https://www.theverge.com/2017/6/23/15855842/the-bad-batch-interview-ana-lily-amirpour-dystopia
ASC Staff (2017). The Bad Batch: Cannibal Run. American Cinematographer. https://ascmag.com/articles/the-bad-batch-cannibal-run