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Review: The Bad Batch

Post-apocalyptic dystopias are all the rage in media today. Whether it be The Walking Dead on TV or Mad Max: Fury Road on the big screens, quite a few efforts recently have used their environment well while telling an effective story. While most assume dystopian worlds have to be created for big budgets, indie filmmakers have also experimented in creating bold new dystopian worlds.

The latest example of this is The Bad Batch, which premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Set in a dystopian Texas landscape where all of the outcasts of society are sent to a desert sector, the film follows a wondering girl trying to look for purpose in her new life.

The Bad Batch, despite some very diverse reactions, looked to have a lot of promise on paper with a talented cast and talented filmmaker in tow. Despite some strong surrealist moments, the film ultimately can sustain its initial intrigue.

Visually, this film is fairly impressive. Director Ana Lily Amirpour (her follow-up to the indie hit A Girl Walks Home Alone) creates a fascinating post-apocalyptic world, filled to the brim with eclectic details. Amirpour teamed with cinematographer Lyle Vincent capture the world with some impressive tacking shots that reveal its desolate scope. Considering the film was made for a mere 6 million dollars, the effort here is quite impressive.

Amirpour’s approach as director is certainly what will divide audiences. This film meanders for its entire running time, following a few character on their journeys for purpose and belonging. For at least in an hour, that approach proves to be effective. Despite not having much in terms of narrative, there are some moments in which Amirpour explores this world for the wild acid-trip that it is. Her use of music and surreal imagery is captivating.

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Where Amirpour thrives as a director, she ultimately gets in her own way as a writer. It’s engaging to see where the film is building up to through the first hour, but once the audience finally finds out, its a bummer that its not very engaging. As the film gets more focused on its characters, it gets far less interesting, with its central journey ultimately being fairly simplistic and emotionally lackluster.

The acting here is surprisingly weak considering a fairly talented cast. Lead Suki Waterhouse has an awkward delivery throughout, with her flat delivery being extenuated by a bizarre accent. It’s nice to see Jason Momoa continuing to pick interesting material, but he struggles throughout. Notable supporting players like Keanu Reeves, Giovanni Ribisi, and even Jim Carrey make appearances, but they sadly have little to do.

While I wouldn’t label Amirpour’s effort as pretentious, it certainly feels self-indulgent at points. This film has a lot of interesting moments, but ultimately doesn’t have much of a purpose emotionally or through subtext. That can work for a 90 minute feature, but at a daunting two hour running time, it feels excessive to say the least. There comes a point where the film goes from being engaging to tiresome, as Amirpour doesn’t have as much dramatic effect as she thinks she does.

The Bad Batch has some wonderfully surrealist moments, but ultimately proves to be far too self-indulgent and simplistic to sustain itself.

Grade: C 

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