I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour’s followup to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night once again takes a familiar genre — the postapocalyptic adventure — and shakes it up in unexpected ways, riffing on such classics as Escape from New York and Mad Max and giving them a somber spin; even the odd poignancy that hangs over this story is a cold one.
In the near future, “bad batch” prisoners are locked in a fenced-off American desert to fend for themselves: there is no parole, no release. There is also no escape from this hellscape, and no one is even trying; that’s not what this tale is about. So a certain hopelessness hangs over new inmate Arlen (Suki Waterhouse: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), and a certain suspense: Just what is her story going to be about, then? How do all these “nonfunctioning members of society,” thousands of them, manage to function as part of a makeshift society? As Arlen explores — not always willingly — she discovers that the best situation to be found is in the jury-rigged town, overseen by “kindly” overlord Keanu Reeves (Exposed), where the residents enact a parody of decent society. The worst is infinitely worse, epitomized by cannibal bodybuilder Jason Momoa (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice).
Matter-of-fact brutality and offhand compassion sit side by side, and no one here is all good or all bad, so Batch is more nuanced than we typically see in the genre, but most welcome is Amirpour’s determination not to sensationalize the violence or make this awful end of civilization look cool or alluring, as too often happens in similar films. On the other hand, there are some oddly male-gazey moments, problematic depictions of people of color (which the filmmaker has addressed only badly), and a two-hour runtime that is not justified. Still, if Amirpour stumbles a bit in her sophomore feature, she remains a talent to watch.