TIFF 2016 Review | ‘The Bad Batch’ Cannibalizes the Apocalypse

The world is a pretty fucked up place in Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch. The undesirables of America have been shuttled off to Texas, where they are forsaken by the law and have to resort to unspeakable acts to survive. Some take up bodybuilding and cannibalism. Others live in a perpetual state of Burning Man. And everyone seems to have popped in from another movie altogether.

The post-apocalyptic film genre is hardly the oldest one, but it is nevertheless a rich vein of pop culture gold that Ana Lily Amirpour has mined to create The Bad Batch. The films of John Carpenter and George Miller are a quick primer for everything you are about to witness – as they probably would be in any movie that’s set in a wasteland ruled by assholes – but even less conventionally popular post-apocalyptic films have planted seeds that bear fruit in Amirpour’s latest. Fans of No Escape, Six-String Samurai, A Boy and His Dog, the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky (which feel more apocalyptic than they perhaps literally are) and a heck of a lot more movies besides are going to be pretty distracted throughout The Bad Batch’s nearly two-hour running time, not so much by the old tedious game of “spot the reference,” but by their own impatience, as they wait for this new film to do something… well, new.

The Bad Batch stars Suki Waterhouse as a young woman who, for reasons unknown, has been deemed unfit for society and dropped off on the border of Texas. It doesn’t take long for her to be abducted by cannibals, who keep her alive so they can devour her piece by piece. Her freedom is hard won – it literally costs her an arm and a leg – and eventually she winds up in a less evil, but still disturbingly corrupt town called “Comfort” instead.

Annapurna Pictures

Five months go by and our heroine stumbles across a member of the cannibal clan who devoured her and, after exacting her revenge, she winds up in charge of her victim’s young daughter. Meanwhile, the little girl’s father, played by Jason Momoa, scours the wasteland looking for his missing child. You’d almost feel bad for him if he wasn’t a kidnapper and a cannibal monster.

We seem to be encouraged to have sympathy for both Suki Waterhouse and Jason Momoa’s characters, and while the actors have the charisma to pull that off, the context of the film isn’t making their jobs easy. The audience learns so very little about our heroine that all we can really judge her by is her actions, which are often confused and strange. “Confused and strange” can be intriguing qualities but without more to ground us in the character’s reality, without learning a little more about how she specifically got like this (even before the cannibalism), it’s a struggle to find something recognizable to latch onto. Meanwhile, Jason Momoa’s character would be engaging and fun if we didn’t know for a fact just how despicable he is, so asking us to root for these two heroes to get together – in any way, romantic or otherwise – feels like a pretty tall order.

There are finer qualities in The Bad Batch, a few fun scenes, neat characters, and some delicious gore, but the film’s confinement in a well-worn genre, its difficult heroes, and its relaxed pacing (get ready for lots of shots of walking through the desert) are competing for supremacy, and eventually they win by decision. The Bad Batch isn’t necessarily “bad” by itself, but it feels bad compared to all the other, similar batches we’ve seen over the years.

Thirteen Must-See Films at TIFF 2016:

Top Photo: Annapurna Pictures

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most CravedRapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.