NEON (2017)

 

Director: Ana Lily Amirpour

 

Starring: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Giovanni Ribisi, Keanu Reeves, Yolonda Ross, Jim Carrey, Diego Luna, Jayda Fink

If you like Suki Waterhouse’s arse, you’re in for a treat with The Bad Batch.

 

I’d wager 75% of the movie is a shot of her walking with the camera by her backside. Maybe there’s some symbolic meaning behind this, or maybe it’s a resigned statement. Either way...Suki arse.

 

Amirpour’s second directorial feature is a mash-up of Mad Max and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre with a tab of acid and Keanu Reeves. Running with ideas on the status of American society and class, the movie loses its way fairly early on after a blistering, near-silent opening assault.

Arlen (Waterhouse) is dumped in an uncontrolled area outside of US jurisdiction with nothing but a cheeseburger (that looked tasty though) and her thoughts. She’s part of the ‘Bad Batch’, a group deemed unfit to be declared US citizens – murderers, illegal immigrants, drug dealers, the undesirable sorts. As she wanders the sweltering desert, she is eventually abducted and taken to a scrapyard town where she is given a friendly welcome – the inhabitants cut off one of her arms and legs and eat them. Mmmm, Suki steak.

 

Eventually escaping, wheeling free by skateboard, she is found by a filthy Hermit (Carrey) who takes her to another makeshift town, known as Comfort – a town run by the magnificently named The Dream (Reeves) who promises a comfortable life if you wish, and no bother to anyone who resides there – however, “you can’t enter the dream, unless the dream enters you”, a slogan that later is revealed as literal. There’s noodles for $1 and raves held by DJ Jimmy (Luna) to keep the cult, I mean residents, placated. Months pass, and during a leisurely stroll through the desert, Arlen comes across one of the cannibals, Maria (Ross), from the scrapyard and promptly blows her brains out, taking her daughter Honey (Fink) to Comfort. What she doesn’t bargain on is Honey’s man-mountain of a father, Miami Man (Momoa), stalking the desert in search of his daughter with vengeance in his soul.

 

 

Acid in the desert, pet rabbits, harems, poo – it’s all part of The Bad Batch.

 

What begins as a brutal, silent cannibal thriller bleeds into a chase for a pet rabbit ending in pregnant captives and a family BBQ. The Bad Batch is a strange movie, an uneven movie, probably a movie destined to be known as a ‘cult’ movie in years to come. There’s lots going on without any real depth or purpose, really. It suffers from awry pacing decisions and a lack of restraint at times, the movie is too long for what it’s trying to achieve and the balance between too much and not enough isn’t entirely successful – the music placements are at times bizarre and the shift from no dialogue to too much doesn’t hit.

 

Waterhouse as Arlen is believable as a hardened desert-wandered, acting with her face (and arse) for the most part, and she does a good job delivering her performance as an amputee – her Southern accent, however…shudder. There’s a scene after she’s dropped acid where her voice resonates and echoes for about 3 minutes and it’s harrowing to hear. Likewise, Jason Momoa’s Cuban accent is just bad. His performance otherwise is spot on, the muscled monolith quietly stalking his way through the desert, Ming the Merciless eyebrows quivering, is a joy to watch. He’s terrifying. Keanu Reeves drops a fun deadpan act as the cult leader, he also explains the journey shit takes from your body, so how can anyone complain? Jim Carrey is unrecognisable as the mysterious, mute Hermit. Grubby and akin to a desert wizard, it’s a weirdly wonderful performance.

 

The characters follow no set path it would seem. Arlen goes from cannibal-hater to lover, bonding with the idea of Comfort whilst simultaneously shunning it. Miami Man, too, wavers in his characterisation as the movie plods on. There’s no emotion or feeling anywhere. The Hermit is literally the only consistent role here.

 

The Bad Batch is at least well-shot, the barren desert is given widescreen treatment to ensure we realise how far away from civilisation this movie is. The town of Comfort is lit up by neon lights and LED’s at night, lending it an almost trippy atmosphere even before the drugs come out. Landscapes are framed well and there’s some lovely shots of the Southern night sky. Arse shots aside, the characters are also well-framed and shot, Momoa’s hulking frame is shot with menace and Arlen is afforded some fine individual scenes also.

 

The Dream is almost set up as the bad guy, which is odd, seeing as he seemingly aids people in, you know, surviving? Funded in shady way perhaps, but people are alive, fed, housed and educated on the journey of shit. Seems OK to me?

 

With an indecisive narrative and unexplored, interesting avenues, The Bad Batch ultimately disappoints on many levels. It’s a fine looking movie and may have even succeeded had it been a silent movie (or devoid of dialogue at least), however, the regular dreary stretches, erratic pacing and lack of character investment damage the movie overall, leading to a surprisingly cruel and (fashionably) unconvincing ending.

 

File this in the bad batch.

 

September 26th 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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