The Bad Batch begins as Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), a young Texan woman, is expelled from the United States and left to fend for herself in the desert. In a series of extraordinary sequences, we watch as she is captured by inhabitants of a ‘bad batch’ encampment called ‘The Bridge’, populated by a group of body-builders who are also, we quickly discover, cannibals. Arlen loses her right arm and leg to their hunger.
Managing to escape on a skateboard, she is rescued by a wordless hermit (Jim Carrey), who drops her off at another encampment, this one ominously named ‘Comfort’. Ana Lily Amirpour’s second feature could be read as a timely political allegory; a dazzling portrait of a culture’s dissolution; or a hazy and meandering drama of about the same density as the humid air the characters breathe. I would argue for the second of those options, with just enough of the first to keep things sharp.
The scenes in the ‘Comfort’ camp are hideously gaudy and, on occasion, mesmerising; a reconstruction of a drug-addled Californian strip bathed in neon lights and strobes. The ‘Bridge’ camp is similarly stylised, except its cannibal bodybuilder population live in discarded fuselages. Miami Man (Jason Momoa), a Bridge inhabitant, meets Arlen in search of the kingpin of the ‘Comfort’ camp, a man called The Dream (Keanu Reeves: Yes, really).
This is where I have a complaint. The prospect of a mustachioed Reeves, playing a character called The Dream, accompanied always by a phalanx of heavily-pregnant women armed with uzis, is astonishing; unfortunately, he’s badly misused. His one major contribution in the script is a long conversation with Arlen in which he talks a great deal about the process of a bowel-movement. Even allowing for the film’s strangeness, it’s a bizarre and insubstantial piece of writing.
While Amirpour’s ecstatically beautiful debut, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), is by far a better picture, The Bad Batch has a preternatural ability to beguile you into its rhythms.
Image: Netflix Press UK