Day-Glo Apocalypse: Ana Lily Amirpour’s THE BAD BATCH (2016)


Lobby card for THE BAD BATCH (2016) -- Fair Use asserted
Lobby card for THE BAD BATCH (2016) — Fair Use asserted

Ana Lily Amirpour weaves universes out of pop culture. Her second film, THE BAD BATCH (2016), is her fantasy of America in the 80’s: a post-apocalyptic, skater culture soaked in drugs and glam. It’s lecherous and carnivorous, lonely and outcast from the promised Eden of the 60’s. But with a touch of John Hughes.

Amirpour’s first film, A GIRL WALKS ALONE AT NIGHT, shot in black and white, was lyrical and sad. THE BAD BATCH is set in the desert, sun-struck and brutal. The main character, Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), is one of the Bad Batch, a group of criminals and social pariahs exiled to the desert beyond US borders, a no-man’s land. She is attacked by cannibals, losing a couple of limbs, manages to escape, and is taken to an oasis community called Comfort by a desert hermit, played by an almost unrecognizable Jim Carrey. He doesn’t speak during the whole film.

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Arlen wants revenge, and she goes out into the desert to find the cannibals. She comes across Miami Man (Jason Mamoa) and his daughter, Honey (Jayda Fink). Against her better judgment, she is drawn to them and has to help Miami Man save Honey from The Dream (Keanu Reeves), the guru-leader of Comfort peddling drugs and complacency. Let’s talk Keanu for a moment. He has always been an actor hard to pin down. He can do mega-blockbusters, but he has always been on the fringe. He is fascinating to watch, and I am so happy to see him pop up in films like THE BAD BATCH and NEON DEMON. His character is smarmy and smacks of Jim Jones, but he makes a weird kind of sense. Then again, all gurus do. Giovanni Ribisi has a bit part as The Screamer, mad prophet wandering through town, running on about “the one thing.”

“Find out for yourself.” Of course.

My John Hughes reference; all of us who grew up in the 80’s have at least one favorite John Hughes film. It’s inescapable. Boy and girl from opposite sides of the tracks are attracted to each other and fight odds to be together, succeeding, most of the time. Arlen and Miami Man have a scene together that made me think of Jake and Samantha huddling over her birthday cake in 16 CANDLES.

THE BAD BATCH is loose and hypnotic; Amirpour knows Jodorowsky. It is grit, dirty and real. All effects are practical, including Arlen’s amputation. Forgoing CGI, Amirpour and cinematographer Lyle Vincent used make-up and camera angles. The music, clothes, and props all look like a dumpster dive from 1986. Amirpour understands you don’t need much if each piece is perfect. THE BAD BATCH isn’t perfect, but it is singular. Amirpour is carving out her own place.