Tag Archives: Ana Lily Amirpour

LIST CANDIDATE: THE BAD BATCH (2016)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, ,

PLOT: Exiled as an undesirable, a woman finds herself escorted to the wrong side of the border fence where she is abducted by a society of iron-pumping people-eaters; escaping after some heavy bodily losses, she finds the closest thing to a utopian village this side of the scorched wasteland.

Still from The Bad Batch (2016)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: In the follow-up to her debut hit, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, director Ana Amirpour imbues the harsh, sun-drenched world of The Bad Batch with the same dreamy otherness found in her nocturnal black and white feature. An oddly appropriate New Wave soundtrack underscores the joie de vivre that the exiles somehow maintain, while things get good and weird with a ’70s drug-dealer-style Keanu Reeves as the king of Comfort and Jim Carrey’s non-speaking, desert-wandering vagrant oddball. Also in the mix: cannibalism, Keanu-speechifying, and an LSD Eucharist.

COMMENTS: Upon its release, most reviewers dismissed The Bad Batch as a bad movie. 43% “Fresh” at Rotten Tomatoes, an IMDB featured user review railing on about its overall crumminess, and the movie was some several million shy of recouping its six-million-dollar budget. Washed upon our shores because of a quick release on Netflix and DVD, it would seem a hopeless case. It is not. The Bad Batch is one of the more novel films to have come out in a while. Bringing together elements of dystopian allegory and post-apocalyptic survivor story (sans actual apocalypse), it takes the difficult path of providing no backstory. Only as the movie unfolds does the bizarre reality start making (some) sense—albeit with heavy doses of strange circumstance and stranger characters.

We get our only glimpse of “civilized” society during the opening credits. Young Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is tattooed behind the ear with “BB5040” and then shunted through a massive border fence with a sign outside that advises, “Beyond this fence is no longer the territory of Texas […] Good luck.” Almost immediately, she’s nabbed by a pair of muscle-bound bandits on a speeding golf cart and finds herself a prisoner in the shanty-est of shanty-towns. Relieved of both her right arm and leg to feed the locals, she hatches a clever escape: downing a bandit with an iron rod, she slides out of town on a skateboard. Picked up by a vagrant with a shopping cart, she’s dropped off in “Comfort,” where she finds… comfort, but no purpose. She only evolves after taking acid at a town rave hosted by Comfort’s ruler, a man credited as “The Dream,” played with jaundiced silkiness by Keanu Reeves.

The blazing sun of the south-of-Texas desert blinds by day, and the clear skies at night heighten Arlen’s spirit journey as she stumbles into the desert looking for purpose. The engine of the story is, in a way, revenge. She encounters one of her captors (and the captor’s daughter) sifting through a landfill, and the subsequent act of murder ironically forces Arlen to take responsibility for the daughter’s life. The cannibal society lives to pump iron, while Comfort’s society lives for pleasure and self-realization. Even in the wasteland, there is a stark divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. Things come to a head when “Miami Man” (Jason Momoa), tattoo and sketch artist, body-builder, butcher, and father, begins his hunt for his missing daughter. Drizzled throughout this sun-and-star-soaked drama are bizarre, eyebrow raising details: a “Jizzy-Fizzy” soda machine, pregnant machine-gun-toting  bodyguards, the solemn trade of a snow-globe, and the Dream’s illuminating question to the daughter: “Is this your rabbit?”

In its bizarre way, The Bad Batch is a remix of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Both films take place in ghost towns populated by unsavory, larger-than-life characters. Both focus on the awakening of a young woman’s sense of self. Both use a skateboard as a metaphor for freedom. The Bad Batch‘s tone is hard to pin down; El Topo springs to mind, but with a esque bent. Perhaps that’s why The Bad Batch did little more than confuse and disappoint the general public. Pity for them; but its eccentricities and meaty characters leave us with something fresh and delicious to chew on.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a trippy, sun-scorched apocalyptic horror film with a rom-com finish that gets as bloody, visceral and cannibalistic as its U.S. R rating will allow. “–Julia Cooper, Globe and Mail (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014)

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DIRECTED BY: Ana Lily Amirpour

FEATURING: Arash Marandi, Sheila Vand, Marshall Manesh

PLOT: A young man romances a mysterious woman in the sparsely-inhabited town known as “Bad City.”

Still from A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: With no real plot to speak of, Girl is a bit of a tease, although the film’s exotic originality is seductive.

COMMENTS: The town of “Bad City” is so sparsely inhabited it only has one little boy, one junkie, one prostitute, one sexy socialite, one vice lord… and one vampire. The setting is the story in this plot-thin exercise, and it’s to Girl‘s credit that its atmosphere intoxicates even though the film does not have much to say. Leaning against a fence smoking, looking like a Persian James Dean in his shades and wife beater, protagonist Arash (Arash Marandi) begins the movie by rescuing a cat, then walking past a hooker in a headscarf and what looks to be a gully full of corpses. Arash’s dad, we soon learn, single-handedly keeps the local skag dealer in business. At night, the nearly deserted town is haunted by a silent female vampire in a striped shirt and a hijab who rides a skateboard (!) One night, dressed as Dracula and lost in a post-costume party stupor, Arash not only encounters the mysterious woman, but survives; not only survives, but is enthralled by her. The vampiress, who radiates loneliness and may be growing tired of her self-appointed role as Bad City’s judge and executioner, may be tempted by Arash as well.

There are some victims along the way, but that is pretty much the plot. What is fascinating about the movie is its evocation of a nowheresville hellscape: the nearly deserted suburban streets lensed in stark black and white, the long silences broken by ethereal music (everything from faux-Morricone to 80s angst-pop). The fact that the actors speak Persian and the women cover their hair implies that Bad City is located in Iran, but the movie was actually shot in and around Bakersfield, California, and the film’s sensibility is an odd mix of east and west, austerity and decadence. It’s like a second-generation Iranian-American distorted dream of a homeland never seen. The movie’s capacity to blend the bleak and the sensual sets it apart from run of the mill arthouse indies.

Writer/director Amirpour professes admiration for and Sergio Leone, but seems like the heaviest influence here, and not just because Girl would make a perfect languid-fang double feature with Only Lovers Left Alive.  The minimalism (there are some very drawn out sequences in Girl), gift for framing urban decay, and eclectic use of pop music all suggest early Jarmusch. I would usually use “style-over-substance” as a compliment rather than an insult, but in this case I do believe that Girl would benefit from a little more meat on its aesthetic bones, a little more blood in its beautiful veins. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is an exciting movie, one that suggests that its director might have a masterpiece in her somewhere down the line.

The film might not have ever been made without the support of , who signed on as a producer after falling in love with the script.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Just when you think you’ve seen it all… along comes something completely new, or at least something so intriguingly bizarre as to seem completely new.”–Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal (contemporaneous)