Arlen (Suki Waterhouse, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies") has been exiled from the United States. Wandering the fenced in desert, she is kidnapped and brought to The Bridge, an encampment of roided out cannibals before escaping to Comfort, a seeming oasis for societal outcasts. But after wondering back into the desert on a Dream trip, Arlen throws her lot in with Miami Man (Jason Momoa, "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), one of those she'd escaped in this world comprised of "The Bad Batch."
Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour's ("A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night") latest is an insightful metaphor for the divisiveness in today's United States couched, like her first, in a Western, this one veering more "Mad Max: Fury Road" than "Nadja." Where her first film was cool black and white, mostly shot at night, this one's all scorched earth sun and daytime dust storms. These contrasts do not obscure Amirpour's imprint, though, with her mentoring heroine, DJ (Diego Luna, "Rogue One"), and skateboard escape.
We never do learn why Arlen has been designated Bad Batch, tattooed number 5040 before she's escorted outside a gate, a sign warning that she's leaving Texas and U.S. law, wishing 'Good luck.' Sitting in an abandoned car, she spots an approaching vehicle and runs, but she's no match for the muscle-bound woman who scoops her inside. When she comes to, she's chained up and with dawning horror, realizes she's for dinner.
But after having her right arm and leg lopped off, Arlen is able to grab a metal pipe and beat the butcher. Crawling through Bridge, all blaring music, pumping iron and scattered amputees, Arlen finds a skateboard and torturously drags herself back into the desert. There, she's found by a hermit (Jim Carrey) who dumps her into a shopping cart and deposits her at the entrance to Comfort. But although, at first glance, Comfort appears civilized, its Jim Jones-ish leader, The Dream (Keanu Reeves), and his Mansonesque harem of pregnant Dream Girls, offers comforts (working toilets!)...for a price.
When she comes across Maria (Yolonda Ross, "Little Men"), her leg broken scavenging in a waste dump, Arlen recognizes the woman as a Bridge resident, ignoring her pleas for mercy as her own were. That leaves Maria's little girl, Honey (Jayda Fink), who's witnessed the incident, but who dutifully follows Arlen back to Comfort. Arlen buys her a rabbit, the young girl reared on human flesh learning the value of life. Meanwhile Honey's father, Miami Man, has set out to find her.
Despite some of the ugly goings-on on screen, Amirpour finds moments of great beauty, Arlen's 'Dream trip' a celebration of the night sky. Lyle Vincent's widescreen photography celebrates iconic Westerns, characters in closeup gazing out at endless vistas. Comfort's evening raves look composed of "Blade Runner" extras, all dancing around the giant boombox structure which houses their DJ (the rave-worthy soundtrack is heavy on German rap artists like Seeed, Romano and Friedrich Kautz & Frauenarzt). There are moments of absurdist humor, too, Arlen taking a drawing of Honey to a working Xerox machine in hopes of finding her once she's lost in the crowd. A cutaway to an unfinished puzzle of the American flag defines a country in chaos, hope perhaps on the horizon.
Amirpour pulls everything together with the uneasy relationship between Miami Man, an undocumented Cuban immigrant, and Arlen, the former content to leave once he's found Honey, the latter wordlessly suggesting they might find something better together. And so, with a heartbreaking compromise, cannibals and comforts begin a new life in uncharted territory. There is hope.
Robin gives "The Bad Batch" a C+.
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