The first time I ever decided to take a solo road trip I made the decision to go to Marfa, Texas. If you have ever spent time in southwest Texas close to the Mexican border and you’re a bleeding heart like I am then you will recall the heavy, suffocating sense of being crushed by the desolation. The miles and miles of blue sky instills not so much a sense a beauty as it does the weight of the existential feeling of nothingness. Some dark part of me is attracted to this arid, inhospitable desert. I give myself over to it wanting to be swallowed and made to feel small like I don’t matter. I want the landscape to dominate that, and me THAT, is what pulled me to Ana Lily Amirpour’s 2016 romantic black comedy horror-thriller film, The Bad Batch.
The best way to describe The Bad Batch is to imagine a world in which everyday life consists of Mad Max: Fury Road level survival intensified by the worst Burning Man acid trip. The protagonist, Arlen, is bad batch. In this post-apocalyptic world, all nonfunctioning members of society (the poor, the sick, the mad, immigrants, the criminal) are deemed bad batch. They are tattooed with a number and dumped into a fenced-in area outside Texas where American laws no longer apply.
The film opens on Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) being released into the desert where she is soon captured by a tribe of desert cannibals lead by the Miami Man (Jason Momoa), a man who cares only for his young daughter and loves to paint, but will no sooner put a hatchet in your back and chop off your limbs for consumption. Arlen escapes (minus a leg and an arm) and with the help of a desert hermit (Jim Carrey) is taken to Comfort, a town run by a cult-like leader only known as The Dream (Keanu Reeves) who keeps the town in control and complacent with a steady flow of drugs and frequent LSD-fueled raves.
Five months after first being brought to Comfort, Arlen decides to go back out in the desert to claim revenge on the cannibals who held her captive and, ya know, ate her. In the process, she comes into possession of the Miami Man’s daughter and takes her back to Comfort. After losing the child after taking LSD one night at a rave, the little girl is eventually taken in by The Dream and his harem.
The reminder of the film is rife with acid trips, sand storms, violence, and sexually tense love/hate nuanced romance between Arlen and the Miami Man as they team up to get his daughter back from The Dream.
What really drives this movie, for me, is the soundtrack. At times so emotive and trance-like that I could weep from a sense of heavy sadness and other times so crude in juxtaposition to the actual events unfolding on the scene that it terrifies. (For example, Arlen loses her limbs to saccharine sounds of Ace of Base’s “I Saw the Sign.”)
I was instantly in love with this film but I feel like it is for particular kind of soul. I feel like this movie attracts the individual who likes to feel the crushing pressure of a dream world. Who likes to swirl about in the intensity of their own mawkishness inspired by a feverish, sensual film? Maybe the narrative drags a little bit here and there but I was plugged in the whole time. Maybe the world in the film is not a kind or glamorous one but it is enticing. I felt the film. I felt the grit of the sand pelleting my skin and I felt the aching loneliness for human connection. I felt the desolation and the tremendous vastness of the defeating sky and I was turned on.
If you know what I’m talking about then this film is for you.
Trista Edwards is a poet, land mermaid, light witch, horror enthusiast, creatrix, traveler, and dog lover. She is also the curator and editor of the anthology, Till The Tide: An Anthology of Mermaid Poetry (Sundress Publications, 2015). You can read her poems at The Journal, Quail Bell Magazine, 32 Poems, The Adroit Journal, Sou’wester, Queen Mob’s Tea House, and more. She writes about travel, ghosts, and poetry on her blog, Marvel + Moon. Trista is a contributing editor at Luna Luna Magazine.