Starring Suki Waterhouse. Rated 14A
VHS-era fetishists will groove on The Bad Batch as it coolly rips on a bunch of your favourite midnight movies. Sadly, its more ambitious aspects come with built-in tape glitch.
Insurgent’s Suki Waterhouse is Arlen, a waif in yellow short-shorts dumped in the film’s opening scenes inside a vast Texan desert walled off, Escape From New York–style, from the rest of civilization. Within minutes she’s kidnapped by cannibals and relieved of an arm and a leg. So far, so awesome.
Arlen escapes, of course, after some highly satisfying revenge violence, and makes her way to a sandblasted shantytown called Comfort, benevolently presided over by a puffy potentate in pristine white slacks called the Dream (Keanu Reeves, made up to look like Bob Guccione). He keeps a harem of pregnant women around to cook up the community’s drugs; not the worst form of soft control, all things being equal, and the resident DJ (Diego Luna) isn’t bad. Matters become a little less Comfort-able when the Dream adopts a six-year-old girl (Jayda Fink) who seems to have wandered in from the surrounding badlands, and Arlen is tapped to fetch her by the kid’s dad, Miami Man (Jason Momoa, Conan)—the fiercest but also the most soulful of those cannibals.
Writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour made a big impression with 2014’s Jarmusch-ean vampire flick A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and the vision here, augmented by more than a few songs from New York synth duo Darkside, is equally tooled for cult-movie-heads. What it lacks, besides a better performance from Waterhouse, is any confidence in its shading. The film wants ambiguity—not the kind of thing generally found in pulp—leaving us with unreadable characters and a distinct petering-out of tension. The last line (regarding some spaghetti) should land with a hard existential wallop, but instead it’s an eye-roller. Still, any film with the balls to cast an unrecognizable Jim Carrey as its symbolic moral centre has more than a little something going for it.