By Jim Slotek
Well, at least we now have some insight into that Unabomber beard Jim Carrey’s been sporting lately.
An almost-unrecognizable Carrey and a bit-role cast Keanu Reeves are the Hollywood trappings in the otherwise art-house dark comedy The Bad Batch. The film is by Ana Lily Amirpour, whose Persian-language vampire feature A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night was stylish, startling and haunting.
And where that film, set in a claustrophobic “Iranian ghost town,” was keenly focused, The Bad Batch takes place in a vast wasteland on the other side of Trump’s Wall, where the opportunity to paint outside the lines is perhaps not to Amirpour’s advantage as a storyteller.
The result is a beautifully-shot but narratively-unfocused film of wandering plot-points and superficial characterizations, peppered with scenes of mordantly-humourous cannibalism.
The premise is worthy of Roger Corman. The title refers to a catch-all categorization of everyone deemed undesirable in a near-future America. We’re told these damned folk are dropped “outside Texas” where their American citizenship is revoked. So, I’m guessing Mexico (though there’s a dearth of Hispanics in this movie).
Plenty of room there for political and social satire, but the misadventures of Arlen (British supermodel Suki Waterhouse, adopting a sort-of Southern accent) don’t conform to those conventions. Dumped in Bad Batch country, her first encounter with one of the many self-declared tribes literally costs her an arm and a leg.
We soon discover that the world of deplorables in Bad Batch country includes, not just bands of cannibals (evocative of predecessors from The Road to Mad Max), but attempts at creating mini-Paradise communes. After escaping her fate as an entrée, Arlen finds herself in Comfort, a pleasure zone run by a stoned, horny, hedonistic shaman (Reeves, appropriately enough).
But through the acid-trip haze that is daily life in Comfort, Arlen discovers she’s a bad fit there too.
So, adios Keanu.
Which leads us to Arlen’s encounter with a lost cannibal-child (Jayda Fink), whose nomadic father (soon-to-be Aquaman Jason Momoa) is desperately searching for her. The “almosts” in their eventual connection can be frustrating, but connect they do.
Is there an explicit moral to this story? Yes. It’s better to eat animals than people. That is literally the moral.
Still, if this is Amirpour underachieving with a bigger budget and stars, then her failures are more watchable than most successes. The Bad Batch is riveting, even when it loses us.
At this point, I’ll watch whatever she puts out.
THE BAD BATCH opens June 23 in Toronto (Bell Lightbox), Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton.
Jim Slotek is a former Toronto Sun columnist, movie critic, TV critic and comedy beat reporter. He’s been a scriptwriter for the NHL Awards, Gemini Awards and documentaries, and was nominated for a Gemini Award for comedy writing on a special (the NHL Awards). Prior to the Sun, he worked at the Ottawa Citizen as an entertainment reporter.