The release of films in select theaters and on demand simultaneously may be good news for cinephiles in overlooked parts of the country, but the experience of watching a movie as intensely visual and stylistically unrelenting as The Bad Batch can’t help but be diminished as a result. Nothing is different about the composition—every shot remains intact, every line of dialogue is the same—but think of a band you disliked until you saw a live performance. Even if the songs are identical, the enjoyment of art the way it was intended, shared among other people having the same experience, is not simply a matter of fetishizing the medium. There’s real magic when all of the components click.
The Bad Batch
R, 118 minutes
Available on demand
For that reason, I recommend watching The Bad Batch (now available on demand) in as close to a cinematic setting as is legal: on as big a screen, with as many people as possible without qualifying as “exhibition” (those FBI warnings aren’t just formalities). In the first 10 minutes of the film, our heroine Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is thrown into an open-air prison in the Southwest United States—which, in the future, has become the destination for undesirables of all stripes, some worse than others. Almost immediately, she is abducted by a roving band of cannibals that chain her in the airplane graveyard they call home, where her arm and leg are sawed off and the wounds are sealed with a cast iron pan. She barely escapes with her life after concocting a plan too outrageous to be anticipated by her captors, and she finds refuge only after traveling for an impossibly long time through the hostile desert by pushing herself with her remaining leg on a skateboard.
The rest of the film is not as intense as its opening moments, though there are occasional outbreaks of violence, but writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) did not open the film just to shock. Think about the sorts of stories you watch on your television versus at a theater. You might marathon shows on Netflix, getting sucked into the narrative as you join these characters on their journey. You can watch them by yourself and lose nothing in the experience. Meanwhile, the audible gasps of fellow audience members at something horrific on the big screen is reassurance that you are not experiencing this alone.
Ana Lily Amirpour continues her exploration of mixing throwback Western themes with ultramodern—even futurist—sensibilities.
Amirpour continues her exploration of mixing throwback Western themes with ultramodern—even futurist—sensibilities. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was billed as an “Iranian vampire Western,” and lived up to the hype, with its atmospheric direction, the fantastical setting and the dream logic of its narrative. The Bad Batch carries with it the hallmarks of familiar post-apocalyptic dramas, but essentially takes place in a version of today in which society simply discards people rather than punish or rehabilitate them. No one ever discusses what they did to be considered a bad batch and therefore condemned to the wasteland, and some adapt more readily than others. Miami Man (Jason Momoa) leads the cannibals but is not entirely evil or dictatorial. The Dream (Keanu Reeves) commands the more “civilized” section but is no great humanitarian. Amirpour uses Western tropes the way all great filmmakers have: to explore the spaces between pure good and pure wickedness, how humanity reconciles moral contradictions in the midst of a wholly indifferent terrain, while leaving the horrific political implications of the world that created and accepted such a scenario to the viewer’s imagination.
Amirpour is a director driven by both instinct and intent; a rave led by The Dream does not explain why this leader is on top of a giant neon boombox surrounded by pregnant bodyguards with semiautomatic weapons, but once we see inside his world, we understand why he has thrived in this world. The only wholly neutral character is The Hermit, played by Jim Carrey in his greatest, most immersive performance to date. The Hermit does not judge, only appears in people’s lives when needed and disappears with no fanfare.
The brutality of The Bad Batch may be too much for some, but for fans of Westerns who enjoy a good subversion of expectations, this is your first must-see of the summer.
Playing this week
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
Baby Driver, The Big Sick, Cars 3, Despicable Me 3, The House, Spider-man: Homecoming, Transformers: The Last Knight, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wish Upon, Wonder Woman
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
Babe, Baby Driver, The Beguiled, The Big Sick, Despicable Me 3, I, Daniel Blake, Spider-man: Homecoming, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonder Woman
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056
Despicable Me 3, Spider-man: Homecoming, War for the Planet of the Apes