Wikipedia claims that The Bad Batch is a “romantic black comedy horror-thriller film.” That’s a lot to heap on something that has about enough plot to fill 10 pages of a screenplay, the acting prowess of a (good) high school play, and meticulously detailed places to explore. There’s very little romance, comedy, thrills, or scares. It’s more of a mood piece than a story-driven movie—one that wants us to see the world its writer-director, Ana Lily Amirpour, has created.
That, as it turns out, might be Amirpour’s strength. She wrote and directed A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night a couple of years back, and it had similar qualities. It’s a gorgeous film where not a whole lot actually happens. The Bad Batch follows a woman named Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), who is dumped into a fenced-in area somewhere close to Texas. We’re in some version of post-apocalyptia, a place in which undesirables are placed in this place and left to their own devices; a sign reads that, technically, this isn’t America and therefore U.S. laws don’t apply. Fun.
She loses an arm and a leg soon after appearing on our screens, takes five months to heal, and soon enough feels relatively comfortable with her new surroundings. The story involves Arlen finding, losing, and then being tasked with retrieving a young girl (Jayda Fink), whose father (Jason Momoa) is a cannibal who only cares about protecting his daughter. Momoa’s character is Cuban, which means he gets to do a terrible accent whenever he speaks. Suki Waterhouse tries to do some sort of Southern drawl. Their dialogue exchanges are hilarious for all the wrong reasons.
The Bad Batch isn’t aiming to tell an important or particularly involving story. Its characters are thin, its plot is barely there—little more than an excuse to move characters from one locale to the next. It exists to showcase its aesthetics and moods. The world that Amirpour has created here is one that’s easy to get lost in. That, alone, is almost reason enough to check out The Bad Batch.
The Bad Batch can’t find much a point to its proceedings, choosing to wallow in the atmosphere rather than make a coherent point about what’s happening. It doesn’t care. We don’t care.
Seriously, even though The Bad Batch plays for just under two hours (it should have been no longer than 85 minutes), and it does feel overlong, it’s never uninteresting enough to hold its audience’s attention. The majority of that credit goes to the way that it looks—the various locations and the cinematography give it a unique appearance. The world in which the film takes place is filled with a bunch of trash, but it’s used in neat ways and the places that are more upscale give an even greater feeling of awe thanks to juxtaposition. The film looks great, and that’s the main reason anyone should consider seeing it.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a whole lot else going for it. The story isn’t a big deal and the characters are really thin, and that leads to the film failing to generate anything close to an emotional reaction to anything that happens within it. It can’t find much a point to its proceedings, choosing to wallow in the atmosphere rather than make a coherent point about what’s happening. It doesn’t care. We don’t care.
Its actors can’t do much to help that, either. Suki Waterhouse and Jason Momoa are both mediocre-at-best, hindered by accents they can’t perform and unable to generate any amount of interest in their characters. Actors like Giovanni Ribisi, Jim Carrey (yes, seriously), and Keanu Reeves show up to an indifferent response. Reeves is the only one who might leave a mark, and that’s only because he’s the most prominently featured supporting actor. Jayda Fink is fine as the kid/MacGuffin. There’s also a bunny. The bunny generates the most sympathy; it didn’t have a choice about appearing in the movie.
The Bad Batch has some good ideas and is excellent at building atmosphere and presenting it to us in a stylish way. It doesn’t tell a compelling story and we don’t care about its characters or anything that happens within it. Does that make it worthwhile? It depends on why you’re watching. If you can absorb the atmosphere for two hours and be happy with that, then it’ll suffice. If you want a good story, you should look elsewhere. The Bad Batch is too long and too empty for me.
Conclusion: The Bad Batch is a mixed bag—one that will work for people who can accept a film with a lacking plot and characters if it has a strong atmosphere.
Recommendation: If you don’t need a strong plot or great characters, you might like The Bad Batch.