The Bad Batch Bites

Movie Review: The Bad Batch

Ana Lily Amirpour’s darkly comic dystopian nightmare uses cannibalism as effective social satire as we watch Suki Waterhouse do her best to remain whole in a world where redemption costs an arm and a leg

The Bad Batch

3/5

Starring: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Diego Luna, Giovanni Ribisi, Keanu Reeves

Directed by: Ana Lily Amirpour

Running time: 1 hr 58 mins

Rating: Restricted

Bad Batch

The Bad Batch: A dark wink to human frailty that uses cannibalism for satirical edge

By Katherine Monk

There are times when you just want this movie to stop. Even for it to end mid-scene. But the horrific beauty in The Bad Batch is that it keeps going. There’s a will to survive that drives it forward, chaining the viewer to its post-apocalyptic frames for a voyage soaked in blood, dismemberment and death. A swift end would be too easy. This is a story about dragging your broken body through another day, trying to fend off the vultures.

It’s an apt metaphor for modern life, even though this dystopian salute to the absurd takes place in an undated future, where society has broken down to the point where all the “bad apples,” “bad hombres” and “bad girls” are collectively called “the bad batch” and thrown into the desert — on the other side of a giant fence protecting Texas.

Arlen (Suki Waterhouse – Pride, Prejudice and Zombies) is getting her number tattooed behind her ear in the opening scene, just before being exiled. Director Ana Lily Amirpour holds on the official sign that greets her, explaining she’s now in lawless territory, and completely on her own.

She wanders aimlessly through sand and random abandoned vehicles. A golf car approaches. She starts running… only to wake up chained to the ground in some circus-like setting. It almost looks friendly: a caravan crafted from an aviation graveyard, airline seats turned into living room sofas. Then you notice a chunk of 747 from Air Force One. And the people with missing limbs.

She’s not a sex slave. She’s livestock.

Cannibalism is an interesting motif in film. Yes. It’s repelling, grotesque and frequently overused to serve misogynist ends, but it’s such a primal fear that it pushes an entirely different set of buttons than your standard slasher film.

Cannibalism is an interesting motif in film. Yes. It’s repelling, grotesque and frequently overused to serve misogynist ends, but it’s such a primal fear that it pushes an entirely different set of buttons than your standard slasher film.

Cannibalism is the ultimate departure from the civilized world, which explains the zombie appetite for human brains, and perhaps, society’s appetite for zombies. They see the world we live in through a different, decomposing, set of eyeballs. They give us permission to cannibalize ourselves as an act of social satire — quite literally — especially in the case of Eating Raoul.

It was the cannibalism that seared Silence of the Lambs into our shared memory, and Meatloaf into the pop culture Zeitgeist via Rocky Horror. The same goes for Michael Rockefeller. The mere suggestion he may have been a cannibal feast in New Guinea ensures he will be the one famous heir whose death everyone remembers.

The fear of being eaten alive is hardwired into our animal brains. People are far more afraid of a shark attack than a coconut landing on their skulls, though ten fold more die from a falling coconut than a shark. It’s part of what psychologist and author Daniel Kahneman described as persistent, irrational, primal fears that warp our sense of judgment, and in turn, our overall view of the world. We may think we’re making decisions with our minds, but our gut feelings will always have a certain, undeniable degree of control.

That’s part of the reason why we can’t stop watching Arlen. She’s doing the things our gut tells us to do in the same situation: Survive, because in this wasteland of a once-civilized world, there is no dignity in death. No heroic sacrifice worth making.

Or is there? Hope, they say, springs eternal — often like a hazy oasis in the desert — which is exactly what Arlen seeks: Comfort. It’s a place run by a guru-like leader played by Keanu Reeves, and inhabited by extras from a German dance club sequence. All you have to do is surrender to the Dream and become one of the flock.

It’s a metaphysical can of worms, and Amirpour pokes at it all the squirmy bits with a redeeming degree of fun. This isn’t sincere gore or horror. It’s not gratuitous misogyny, though it will make every woman feel uncomfortable. The central performance from Waterhouse is so strong and brave, we’re hypnotized by her ability to push forward. More importantly, we’re still stubbornly, subconsciously, hoping for some kind of redemption.

The Bad Batch is about the good, the bad and the ugly within us all. The cannibalism motif makes it heuristic. As we eat each other, can we learn from the experience? Can we improve? Can we be redeemed? Only someone like Arlen could ever really know the answer, and it cost her an arm and a leg.

@katherinemonk

THE EX-PRESS.CA, June 26, 2017
Katherine Monk’s Movie Reviews on Rotten Tomatoes

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Review: The Bad Batch

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Summary

3Score

There are times when you just want this movie to stop. Even for it to end mid-scene. But the horrific beauty in The Bad Batch is that it keeps going. There’s a will to survive that drives it forward, chaining the viewer to its post-apocalyptic frames for a voyage soaked in blood, dismemberment and death. A swift end would be too easy. This is a story about dragging your broken body through another day, trying to fend off the vultures. It’s an apt metaphor for modern life, but Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature is also a merciless examination of social disintegration that uses cannibalism as a central motif. The cannibalism makes it heuristic. As we eat each other, can we learn from the experience? Can we improve? Can we be redeemed? Only someone like Arlen could ever really know the answer, and it cost her an arm and a leg -- Katherine Monk.

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