A slender one-armed woman in smiley-face hot pants faces the twilit desert, a revolver held loosely in her remaining hand. It’s a striking image, and The Bad Batch traffics in striking images. It’s a film that’s in love with glistening athletic bodies in barren sun-bleached landscapes, where hulking men butcher human torsos, and pregnant runway models brandish submachine guns. As the sophomore feature from director Ana Lily Amirpour, you might be expecting a more accessible riff on the themes she explored in her first film, the quirky Iranian vampire noir, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. If you’ve only seen the trailer, you might expect a gonzo, post-apocalyptic revenge western somewhere between Mad Max: Fury Road and Hell Comes to Frogtown. But The Bad Batch isn’t either of those things. Unfortunately, it’s never much more than that striking image of a woman in a desert.
The Bad Batch starts strong, presenting a future in which the world’s undesirables (skaters! People with neck and knuckle tattoos! At least one party DJ!) have been exiled to a large, fenced-off section of Texas. (It’s like Escape from New York, but for Burning Man.) Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is a recent internee who’s almost immediately set upon by two cannibals in a golf cart, then methodically dismembered at an airport graveyard full of cannibal bodybuilders. Then she poops on herself, escapes into the desert, and a mysterious hobo (Jim Carrey) takes her to a way more chill town full of non-cannibals, EDM raves, and Keanu Reeves.
It’s a potent setup, and exactly what you’d want from a director whose previous film achieved similar feats of genre-fuckery. But at a certain point, Arlen more or less gives up on being a protagonist, spending the rest of the two-hour runtime wandering back and forth between the film’s three locations, often for no goddamn reason. Periodically she brandishes that revolver at a series of people who don’t really seem like they deserve it. She occasionally gets kidnapped by handsome Cuban cannibal Jason Momoa. She also does some drugs.
It seems like The Bad Batch has something to say about... something? Maybe? Does Arlen’s terminal indecision stem from a larger social malaise? Do the cannibals represent... I don’t know... consumerism? The film never concerns itself with connecting dots. And then there’s Momoa, who’s been assigned an extremely bad Cuban accent, high-waisted linen pants, and a neck tattoo of the island itself. Beyond verging on caricature, it’s difficult to parse what Amirpour is trying to say about immigrants in general or Cubans in particular, especially since this one straight-up eats people. And with a story that frequently places its waifish white lead at the mercy of menacing brown men, the aggregate vibe is kinda gross.
With A Girl Walks Home, Amirpour deftly wove unusual genre conventions and a loose narrative into engaging cinema. But The Bad Batch feels like a step backwards—an empty style exercise without a legible moral compass or a clear endgame. The film is sprinkled liberally with beautiful compositions and potentially intriguing characters, but Amirpour seems uninterested in marshaling the assembled material into a coherent formation.
And look, it’s entirely possible that I just didn’t “get” The Bad Batch. It’s weird and artsy, and maybe after a few viewings, the elements I see now as frustrating and illegible will turn profound. But the film’s marketing promises a wild genre outing from an up-and coming indie darling, which means a whole lot of people will go into this movie expecting Furiosa by way of Frances Ha. What they’ll get is Suki Waterhouse wandering around in the desert.