"The Bad Batch" is an intriguing example of abstract filmmaking that has oozed from the mind of director-writer Ana Lily Amirpour ("A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night"). She doesn't follow traditional paths of linear storytelling or coherent imagery. Instead, she splatters the screen with a concoction of ideas, people and events that force the viewer to analyze these elements in regards to what is happening and draw their own conclusions of where it is all going. If Amirpour was a trail guide, she would not point you down a set path but drop crumbs you would have to find and follow.
This approach to making movies is not for those who only want a production that has a definitive beginning, middle and end. That's far from the case here so there has to be a willingness to jump into the flow of the production at the random point the director gives you, let it carry you in multiple directions and then leave it behind without reaching a clear ending.
This all makes for a project that demands attention, so passive moviegoers not willing to try something that will take them out of their comfort zone should make other plans.
Amirpour invites the viewer to join the journey at the border of Texas and a barren wasteland populated by society's rejects. This world that has been devastated by some disaster exists somewhere between the prison system John Carpenter introduced in "Escape from New York" and the Orwellian existence found in the "Mad Max" movies.
Tossed into this foreboding world is Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), a vain young woman who is captured within the first few moments of the film. Her captors are bodybuilding cannibals who proceed to chop off her right arm and leg. The wounds are bound so that when she is harvested for more food the meat will still be fresh.
Despite her injuries, Arlen escapes and with the help of a crusty desert hermit (Jim Carrey) she makes her way to a community known as Comfort. This is a place where self-preservation is balanced with living a joyful life. Arlen tries to blend in with this unusual world but she's driven by a deeper passion – revenge. This puts her in direct conflict with the muscle-bound Miami Man (Jason Momoa), an artist seeking a lost treasure.
All of these elements unfold in more a stream of thought manner than real design. Arlen floats like a post-apocalyptic Alice who has fallen into a rabbit hole world of unrelated people and actions. One moment she's limping through the desert to commit murder and then she's on a head trip that makes her one with the cosmos.
There's even an encounter with The Dream (Keanu Reeves), the closet thing her world has to a leader. The Dream is constantly surrounded by a pregnant harem and he talks in grand terms about his role in relieving the word of waste. It's the kind of odd role Reeves does well and adds another abstract element to the mix.
Waterhouse floats from strange setting to weird moment in a dreamlike fashion accented by the limp she has because of the prosthetic leg. This is not a complicated role but did require a performer who could make her way through this strange world while showing little shock and awe. Waterhouse turns in a solid performance as she gives Arlen the kind of strength needed to survive being sent to such a terminal wasteland as one of the bad batch.
There are times when the film shifts to other characters but those players aren't nearly as strong as Arlen.
Amirpour's disjointed approach to filmmaking goes from long scenes with no dialogue to dusting the world with characters who have nothing to say even when they speak, as best shown through the latest quirky work from Giovanni Ribisi.
"The Bad Batch" can be viewed in very different ways. It can been seen as just another movie about survival in a world designed to destroy the hopes, dreams and lives of anyone forced to live there. It can also be seen as a morality lesson about the emotional wasteland that can be created when materialism eclipses spiritualism. Amirpour puts it on the viewer to take all of the small pieces and create their own mosaic of meaning. There's really no right or wrong conclusion.
Amirpour's film won't appeal to everyone but there's no denying that it is original and should be a sign of even more engaging work to come.
THE BAD BATCH
2.5 out of 4 stars
Cast: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves, Giovanni Ribisi.
Director: Ana Lily Amirpoir
Rated R for graphic violence, drug use, language, partial nudity
Running time: 115 minutes.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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