Review: The Bad Batch (TIFF 2016)
PLOT: In a society where outcasts are qualified as being part of a “bad batch” and exiled into a desert wasteland, a young woman (Suki Waterhouse) struggles to find her place in a world full of cannibals and the insane.
REVIEW: Going into TIFF, there were few movies I was looking forward to more than THE BAD BATCH. A dystopian cannibal movie from Ana Lily Amirpour (A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT)? Count me in! Sadly, THE BAD BATCH proved to be one of the few real disappointments of the festival, and a vacuous genre exercise that may appeal to lovers of camp and surrealism, but not many others.
Netflix has already picked-up SVOD rights for this, which seems appropriate, although considering the slower-than-molasses pace, the 115 minute running time may prove too punishing for some viewers unless they have giant reservoirs of patience. To be fair, THE BAD BATCH does have an intriguing hook and a terrific start, when our heroine, played by Waterhouse, finds herself nabbed by cannibals moments after being exiled, and having her right arm and leg hacked-off and served to a burly posse.
She manages to make an unlikely escape, being picked up by a mute wanderer (Jim Carrey in an extended, wordless cameo) with a knack for saving the disregarded. She’s taken to a settlement called “Comfort”, run as a cult of personality by Keanu Reeves, with a hairdo and mustache that makes him look like Pablo Escobar. To a certain extent, it’s fun, with Amirpour showing off some nice production design, such as Reeves’s home, which looks like a neon-colored boombox (with Diego Luna as his personal DJ).
Up to about an hour in you keep waiting for THE BAD BATCH to pick-up steam but it just meanders along even once the actual plot starts. Basically, Jason Momoa, who plays one of the cannibals, loses his daughter, who winds-up in “Comfort” due to our heroine, and he forces her to help him get her back. Even though he uses her as a commodity, our heroine starts to inexplicably fall for him, leading to a confusing, presumably satiric conclusion completely devoid of conflict, action or even resolution.
In many ways, THE BAD BATCH is reminiscent of a Nicolas Winding Refn movie, with the emphasis of style over substance. But, Amirpour avoids the fun, exploitation elements of a Refn movie or the energetic blasts of action - even if the retro MTV-style visuals are there, as is the pop-soundtrack with ironic uses of pop hits (including Ace of Base’s “The Sign”).
If THE BAD BATCH had come from any other director, I would have written it off as a semi-interesting exercise in style, but Amirpour’s talent demands it be held to a higher standard. Most certainly, she’s got a couple of great movies in her, but THE BAD BATCH seems terribly self-indulgent for only a second feature. Other than the opportunity to see Carrey having fun walking around the desert or Reeves’s brief scenes, there’s really not much at all to THE BAD BATCH, even if a some interesting ideas and the occasional fun bit keep it from being a total loss.