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'The Bad Batch' is one seriously slow cannibal movie

The maker of "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" tries her hand at something bigger, complete with Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey.
The Bad Batch
Suki Waterhouse loses some limbs in the cannibal dystopia of "The Bad Batch." Credit: Neon

‘The Bad Batch’
Director:
Ana Lily Amirpour
Stars: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

There’s slow and then there’s Ana Lily Amirpour’s “The Bad Batch.” There are many kinds of slow: the films of Andrei Tarkovsky are slow; period pieces tend to be pretty slow; Andy Warhol movies aren’t really “slow” because slow implies they’re building to a conclusion. The Iranian-descended American filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour has made a name as a hip “It” girl, who makes what sound like pure midnight movie fare. Her debut, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” was a feminist-vampire-Western. It was also very, very slow. It wasn’t just that not much happened, but it was that, too. It’s that she seems to make movies with zero interest or maybe even awareness of pacing — as though she assembled her films and didn’t think anyone but her would ever see them.

That’s not a bad thing. There’s something fun, if you will, about a movie that really makes you feel every minute rather than create a space where time itself evaporates. “A Girl” got a pass, and for a very shallow reason: It was short, a mere 100-or-so minutes. “The Bad Batch” runs two hours, and it feels like four. It gives you nothing but time to explore its grimy, depressing-amusing world. This is Amirpour’s cannibal movie, set in a Ballardian hellscape where anything approaching civilization has eroded well before the picture started. A lot goes unexplained, but what seems to be left of humanity lives along the arid American border. Many have taken up in a glorified shantytown. Others are hungry loners, waiting around until someone delicious comes along.

Among the prime cuts is Arlen (Sukie Waterhouse), a young woman who in the first 10 minutes gets half-“Boxing Helena”’d, losing an arm and a leg to a cannibal who’s long past caring about the welfare of others. Arlen escapes, and eventually — very eventually — finds herself in Comfort, an oasis without much salvation, whose near-feral denizens living are ruled over by a man who goes by Dream (played by Keanu Reeves, one of a handful of star semi-cameos). Dream doesn’t mix with his people; he lounges in an air-conditioned manse and collects comely young lasses to create a new, cordoned-off Eden protected by armed guards. The other main man in Arlen’s life isn’t much better: He’s known only as Miami Man (Jason Moma), a cannibal but a sweet one, who only kills to feed his young daughter (Jayda Fink).

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Are these big names — “Comfort,” “Dream” — smart-dumb or dumb-dumb? It’s ambiguous. “A Girl” was cool-feminist, which is to say it used dramatic imagery — the sight of a woman in a chador skateboarding and fending off oppressive men — because it looked cool. She wasn’t erecting a cinematic tract. She's someone who neither takes herself seriously but is serious enough to create movies that look like austere art films. Far as we can tell, Amirpour makes movies only to include things that she likes: cannibals, vampires, Westerns, Ace of Base, Jim Carrey. The latter pops up in a few scenes as the desert version of a backwoods madman, mute and made-up to look like he’s been baking in the sun for about 400 years.

Amirpour doesn’t have great organizational skills, but that’s almost OK: Her films are long enough that it doesn’t matter where or when anything happens. There’s a lot of dead air and almost no talking. Even once a rescue mission plot belatedly forms, “The Bad Batch” still doesn’t seem to move. That’s kind of funny. If Amirpour is aware of how powerfully slow her movie is, it’s probably a joke. Ditto that she gives most of the dialogue to Keanu Reeves, an actor once infamous for clunky line-readings, including murdering Shakespeare. In his older age (remember, he’s 52), he’s blossomed into a golden-tongued orator, and he’s a god during his long soliloquies, which mostly involve him waxing about actual shit. We’d say Amirpour will get better with time, learn the value of pacing and fleshing out her ideas. Thing is, “The Bad Batch” seems to be exactly the movie she wanted to make.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
 
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