Produced Megan Ellison, Danny Gabai, Sina Sayyah
Written and Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
Starring: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa,
Giovanni Ribisi, Keanu Reeves, Yolonda Ross,
Jayda Fink, Diego Luna,Cory Roberts
Ana Lily Amirpour follows up her arthouse vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night with this off-putting and deeply unsatisfying mash-up of Mad Max, The Hills Have Eyes, and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
The film is troubling on many levels, including its depiction of its lead character Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) and its failure to make her the feminist hero we want her to be.
If you viciously victimize your female lead to the extent Amirpour does, then the audience expects an equal amount of empowerment.
That never happens.
The decisions Arlen makes go from odd to infuriating and by the film’s end, this character we’ve been trying to root for is just a dumb, ditzy blond in a world where that kind of person wouldn’t survive long.
In a dystopian (possibly apocalyptic) future, unworthy members of society are designated as “Bad Batch” and sentenced to life in the fenced-in wasteland prison of the Texas desert. We first see it through the eyes of new Bad Batch member, Arlen, who is dumped off at the border fence and left to fend for herself.
Life there is rough, as Arlen quickly discovers: She’s abducted by cannibals who knock her out, chain her up and saw off first one arm, and then a leg. She’s kept, like the other prisoners we see, in chains until her captors decide they want another arm or leg for dinner. It’s a grim fate indeed, but Arlen shows exceptional cunning and manages to escape despite being down one leg and one arm.
By pure luck, she manages to find her way to a kind of desert oasis, a town called Comfort, where the locals don’t eat each other (noodles are plenty) or just hang out and take drugs if they want.
But Arlen isn’t happy there. With her newly acquired prosthetic, she can walk, slowly, and likes to stroll out into the desert. It’s a strange choice for someone who was nearly eaten out there — and who is even more vulnerable now — but Arlen is wholly unconcerned with her own safety.
She ends up crossing paths with Miami Man (Jason Momoa, sporting a heavy faux Cuban accent) and despite the obvious enmity between them, she’s drawn to him. He is Jason Momoa after all, and incredibly handsome, but she accurately intuits that he’s a cannibal too. The audience has already seen him brutally butcher a young woman who could easily be Arlen, so we’re hardly rooting for these two to get together.
[Note: To really discuss the film, I’ve got to get into some spoilers.]
In an earlier desert jaunt, a gun-toting Arlen is aimlessly looking for someone to shoot, or so it seems. She comes across a woman (Yolonda Ross) and her daughter (whom the audience knows is Miami Man’s family) and kills the mother, whom she rightly determined was also a cannibal.
With little choice of what to do now, the little girl follows Arlen back to Comfort. If Arlen wants to atone for killing the girl’s mother, is looking for a companion, or is trying to give the girl a better life is left up to the audience. The girl, Honey, who’s about 7, adapts surprisingly well to her new guardian. Arlen buys the little girl a rabbit for a pet and if you think it doesn’t end will for the rabbit, you are 100 percent correct.
Honey also catches the eye of Comfort’s leader, a mustachioed, disturbingly puffy Keanu Reeves, who occasionally comes out of his palatial estate to address the townspeople, accompanied by his many pregnant, gun-toting wives.
The Dream does show a possibly unhealthy interest in Honey, but all we see him do is take her into his house and feed her spaghetti. If more is going on, that’s not established clearly enough to be the motivating factor for Arlen that it is. We’re also not convinced she’s really that attached to the girl, whom she knows by now is Miami Man’s daughter.
Arlen gains entry to The Dream’s palatial estate to rescue Honey. The Dream welcomes her and offers her the chance to be one of her consorts, but she appears to have the choice to simply turn him down. Plenty of other residents, whom The Dream proudly keeps supplied with drugs and DJ music, seem to go about their lives without any interference. Compared to the horrors of the desert and the cannibals, life in Comfort seems like a pretty great existence, the best one could possibly hope for under the circumstances, vaguely creepy dictator dude and all.
If Arlen’s choice came down to being forced (á la The Handmaid’s Tale) to bear The Dream’s children, that would be a compelling reason to leave the luxuries of the town. Or if we were certain Honey was really in danger, we’d be rooting for her to rescue the girl. But Arlen’s bold move seems wholly unnecessary, especially considering her options. Your interpretation of the situation may be very different, but the rousing hero moment that Amirpour seems to be striving for here falls completely flat.
And any heroics on Arlen’s part are completely negated by her decision to be with Miami Man. If he were willing to give up his cannibal ways, that would make her attraction to him at least somewhat palatable. Her decision is, at the very least, impulsive and, at the very worst, suicidal. Especially since, at some point, Miami Man is going to find out she killed his wife! Hardly a minor detail.
It’s a sad state of affairs when the ’60s exploitation film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is more empowering for women than a movie made today by a female filmmaker.
There are some fascinating visuals, particularly when Arlen drops acid and (again) wanders out into the desert, and the movie does boast a great soundtrack. (That’s Diego Luna seen briefly as the DJ. An unrecognizable Jim Carrey also makes an appearance as a silent desert bum.)
Despite glimpses of something great here and there, Amirpour fails to make this movie work. And if you were hoping for a showdown between Miami Man and The Dream, sadly, that never happens. The two characters never meet.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5