The Unhinged Cannibal Thriller on Netflix With Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, & Jason Momoa

Keanu Reeves with a harem of women in The Bad Batch (2016)Ana Lily Amirpour is like an avant-garde chef, continuously experimenting with each creation by throwing so many disparate elements into one pot and seeing what goes together. Her debut film, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, was a vampire tale that combined Jean-Luc Godard coolness with Francis Ford Coppola formal control. Her most recent film, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, was a raucous New Orleans one-crazy-night romp that took the ’80s buddy film formula and injected it with superpowers and a feel for street-level grime in league with the Safdie Brothers and Sean Baker. In between those two films is arguably the weirdest film of her career, the completely insane concoction that is The Bad Batch, taking a page from the vast annals of post-apocalypse art and acid Westerns, while mixing it with a pure star power that keeps the audience on its toes.

What Is ‘The Bad Batch’ About?

In an unexplained post-apocalyptic world where the American government kicks undesirables called “the bad batch” out of the country, Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is one such undesirable. After getting abducted by a gang of cannibals, she has one of her arms and one of her legs hacked off for food. She escapes by using a nearby skateboard, where she encounters a wandering Hermit (Jim Carrey), who leads her to a commune called Comfort. Comfort has everything you’d want to survive in a desert wasteland: food, water, shelter, and lots of drugs. It’s run by a mysterious cult leader named The Dream (Keanu Reeves), who models himself off of a lounge lizard Vegas Elvis and keeps himself in power by using his various concubines to carry his babies and run his drug operation. While exploring the desert outside of Comfort, she brings a young girl named Honey (Jayda Fink) back to the town, which puts cannibal leader Miami Man (Jason Momoa), Honey’s father, on her trail. When Honey gets snatched by the Dream because Arlen was too distracted by drugs to watch her, she must team up with Miami Man to save her.

All in all, that’s a pretty wacky combination. We’ve got cannibalism, a destroyed and rebuilt society, and cults. Did I forget to mention the amount of star power, which makes absolutely no sense? We’ve got Momoa in full shirtless warrior glory, we have Keanu channeling his inner guru in a way that recalls prior roles in films like Thumbsucker, and Jim Carrey wandering in and out of the film with nary any recognition or shred of why you’d typically cast him in the first place. Oh, and let’s throw in cameos from Giovanni Ribisi, as an irritating layabout who rambles about the “one thing” you must never forget, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him appearance by Diego Luna as the DJ of Comfort. What’s most jarring about it is, except for Keanu, none of the casting is angled in a way that asks you to recall the actor’s previous work and view this role as a shift in the context of their career. Momoa hadn’t really established the star persona he has now by the time of this film, and his role has very little Aquaman energy to it. Meanwhile, Carrey’s inclusion can be downright baffling, as you barely recognize him for most of the runtime, and his character serves as little more than a plot device and sideshow distraction, with only a smattering of his signature Mr. Fantastic bodily magic that he’s effortlessly worked for decades.

Jason Momoa Is ‘The Bad Batch’s Standout

Jason Momoa as Miami Man in the desert with Suki Waterhouse's ArlenImage via Neon

Of this trinity of surprising casting choices, it’s Jason Momoa who stands out the most, primarily due to how much time he gets. It took Momoa a while to build his own strengths as an actor, but he’s since graduated from stoic brutes that express all their emotions in their eyebrows. Miami Man is still an absolute unit who can terrify anyone into submission, but Momoa adds an air of genuine menace that he hadn’t harnessed before. It’s one thing to convince us that he can beat someone up, but it’s another to convince us that he’ll literally eat someone without seeming deranged. Add in the dimension of how much he genuinely loves his daughter and shows warmth and tenderness, and it points to Momoa reaching a new height in his career where he can become more than his muscles and amazing hair.

‘The Bad Batch’ Is Unconcerned With Expectations or Momentum

It’s more than plausible if I described for you the setting and subject of this film (you know, cannibalism and cults in a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland), you would picture a Mad Max story that George Miller had discarded as too depressing. But instead, the film is far less enamored with the unsavory survivalist elements and more fixated on marinating in the moments where people try to be comfortable in the face of an unpromising future. While there is still human carnage and a feeling of hopelessness, the number of scenes that are devoted to having drug visions and stretching moments of silence and interpersonal tension drifts into meandering territory. It feels like The Bad Batch had about 90 minutes of story and stretched them to 120 minutes just by having the characters vibe with each other, becoming fixtures of a series of music videos. Think Cormac McCarthy stories by way of Alejandro Jodorowsky Westerns like El Topo, or the explosion of late 1960s films devoted to exploring the effects of drugs, like The Trip. It’s a movie that your enjoyment of will depend entirely on whether you’re on its wavelength, and if you just so happen to be on some kind of psychotropic drug while watching, then all the better.

This isn’t to say that the film has no sense of conventional narrative structure or tension. Arlen is still built up to be a protagonist to get behind, one just looking for security and willing to fight against those that threaten her. Time is taken to develop a connection between her and Honey, though it’s one built less on understanding each other and more on the basic need to protect a child from the dangers of the world. Even characters like Miami Man and the Dream, who are ostensibly antagonists, get moments that humanize them, like Miami Man sharing his story of emigrating from Cuba or the Dream sharing his philosophy about treating animals with respect. But the outline of the plot mechanics could be scribbled on a napkin, and it’s hard to feel too much suspense when the film is more concerned with devoting another three-minute montage to its next needle drop (though, it must be said, the music choices are incredible). That devotion to musical moments leads to some of the film’s best moments, like Miami Man killing a woman for food while Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” plays on his headphones or a montage of perfectly sculpted bodybuilder cannibals pumping iron to the tune of Die Antwoord’s “Fish Paste.” It’s those moments where Amirpour’s stamp is most pronounced, fusing different strands of pop culture to form a distorted picture of Americana.

‘The Bad Batch’s Ana Lily Amirpour Is the Type of Filmmaker We Need More OfThe Hermit (Jim Carrey) staring down Miami Man (Jason Momoa) in The Bad Batch

You can call Amirpour’s filmmaking many things, but above all else, it’s truly original. Too many filmmakers work too hard to make their films easily marketable, be it for audiences or for studio executives, where the obvious talent gets somewhat hampered by expectations. Ana Lily Amirpour isn’t one of those people, as her three films each serve as distinct slices of her sensibilities that seek to skewer the oddities of specific subcultures as much as they seek to have fun with absurd scenarios. Her films are each filtered through their own aesthetics and are drawn from completely different sources of pop history, showcasing her vast sense of taste. Her films are all vibe checks, designed to be so authentic to her off-putting vision that, inevitably, most people will probably be pushed away by what she has to say. But for those who can keep up with her and get down into the oddities of her worlds, those people are in for a real treat. Even in a movie like The Bad Batch, she takes cannibalism and desert hellscapes and drug-induced hysteria, and combines them into something that’s quite tasty.

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