The Bad Batch (2016) is a stark and stunning new film by Ana Lily Amirpour. And timely too, considering every effort by our current regime to cast those of seeming naught into the desperate oblivions of a world only slightly less unhinged than the one depicted in this film. With a nod to the current depravity of our day, the film opens (forgive my indulgence) in the wet dream of said regime whose spooging head is our ever-ranting, ever-pissy Child-in-Chief — let’s call him Boy — he who nightly wets his bed and in the dreamy slosh fingers blindly for his own plundered asshole. Were the Boy blessedly in this film, he’d be swiftly on a sizzling spit: fatted swine for its flesh-hungry natives.
We first meet our protagonist, a wordless Arlen May Johnson, aka Inmate 5040, as guards walk her to desert’s edge, to the kingdom’s unceremonial gate (American chain link), to literally lock her away from fair society. She stands, indifferent to her plight, with only a backpack, a burger (which she promptly eats) and a half-filled jug of water. Ignored is the wooded post which reads:
Warning: Beyond this fence is no longer the territory of Texas. That hereafter no person within the territory beyond this fence is a resident of the United States of America or shall be acknowledged, recognized or governed by the laws and governing bodies therein. Good luck.
There, she is loosed into a blistering landscape of sand and sunbaked clay, and she walks straight in as would a schoolgirl through a noonday park, though there is little question here of her arrival into something far more suspect. Arlen’s first encounter is with a tribe of desert body builders — a brutish, body-ripped band in need, naturally, of good supply of protein. Stray travelers seem their sole course, and these luckless lie chained and limbless in what unremittingly comes as another feed, one body part at a time. Arlen, freshly snatched from the feral barrens, no sooner meets with a hacksaw than she wiles a witting escape, and face-up to the blazing sun, a snapped up skateboard as her ride, she pushes into a fevered dream one foot, and only one foot, at a time. What follows is a love story.
Amirpour is proving to be a fearless and even radical filmmaker. Her two films, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and now The Bad Batch, push with shoreless pleasure into the fevered dream of cinema, of storytelling itself, and the trade there plied is of tales borne upon “the moonshine’s wat’ry beams.” Hers is “the lash of film,” as Mercutio so aptly put it, that leaves us mind-bloodied but in blissful want, our necks tipped, supple, wholly exposed. Both films disarm while bearing unfeigned a full set of savage teeth, and it is to Amirpour’s credit that she softens our critical stance with silence, narrative sparity and expansive, expressive imagery that both ask and allow us to lean in, not only for a better take but for an understanding that can’t quite hold yet is nonetheless kaleidoscopic. We’re left dreambound, in dream terrains that alarm, appall, arouse, bring imaginative riches and beg again another turn. This is the dream of story, of storied cinema, where Amirpour’s Grimm’s tales stand as beacon for our times.