“Do you think you could eat people?”
Ana Lily Amirpour asks me that with a laugh. It’s a bizarre question, but given the plot of her latest film, it’s on topic.
Indeed, the writer and director has followed up her 2014 cult feminist vampire hit A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night with The Bad Batch. The film follows recently convicted felon Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), who’s thrown into the confines of a desert wasteland full of criminals. Quickly captured by a group of cannibals in this man-eat-man (and woman-eat-woman) world, she must learn to survive without two of her limbs. Seeking vengeance, she gets involved with cannibal/father Miami Man (Jason Mamoa) in his search for his missing daughter, someone he’d kill for.
Joining Amirpour in her suite at the William Valle Hotel in Brooklyn, we quickly bond over our shared love for ’80s cult action films, specifically Escape from New York starring Kurt Russell. Her affinity for this particular era of filmmaking is alive in the artistic direction of The Bad Batch.
“I just wanted everything that was in The Bad Batch to be analog and from the ‘80s and ‘90s, like no future gadgets,” she explains. “Everything that they have should be derived from the environment and leftover shit in dried-up parts of Texas. So Escape from New York feels like a good example, but I was also looking at El Topo by the Jorodowskys. They made this psychedelic western in the ‘70s. It’s like you could never make a movie like that today. It’s so fucked up.”
The colorful, yet gritty ’80s aesthetic of the film also beckons visions of Miami and the beach bodybuilding scene. Mamoa’s character sports a “Miami Man” tattoo across his chest, once referenced in his backstory as a Cuban immigrant. It’s something personal to Amirpour, an Iranian-British immigrant whose first American residence was in the Floridian city.
Another character, simply billed as the Hermit, would surprise audiences to know that he’s portrayed by Jim Carrey. Known for his character acting, he slips in and out of scenes without saying a word, just rolling a grocery cart full of salvaged junk. Roaming through the desert, dirty and tanned beyond recognition, he represents an outsider among outsiders.
“I feel like if there was one character that I probably feel the closest to in The Bad Batch, I’d like to say the Hermit,” she reveals. “But I don’t actually think I’m at that level of zen. I really understand Miami Man, and I feel like he is deeply, morally good. His intention is good, and he loves his daughter. He will do whatever he has to do in this man-eat-man world. Maybe I can understand that.”
As we discuss the hypotheticals of our own capacity for cannibalism, Amirpour reminisces about another character who never made the cut, but would surely have been a fan favorite.
“I had this idea that there was a girl, another character kind of like the hermit,” she says. “I don’t know why but I pictured her with one eye tattooed like a panda and an Amelia Earhart leather cap, and she lived in a hatch in the desert. She dug herself out a hole, and she was like a trapper. But she would catch cannibals only, like trick them, trap them, and catch them. And then she’d pull their teeth out and let them go so they couldn’t eat meat.”
Much like A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Bad Batch is about the outsider, someone who’s often held to certain expectations that they don’t always meet. It’s a quality that often connects with audiences, those typical pop culture-centric types who so often root for the underdog and the all-but-lost concept of the American dream.
For the young amputee protagonist, it’s her own perception of herself that’s called into question. “How do you recognize yourself if you’re torn apart?” Amirpour asks.
But the film really does its job when it forces the audience to question their own perception of the apparent protagonist and antagonist. When the young victim of cannibalism lets vengeance drive her, and when the cannibalistic father only survives by his love for his daughter, the line between good and bad is blurred.
“We all just have a propensity for good and bad,” she says. “I totally think that this girl is doing stupid, heinous shit. And kind of just like everyone in life, she feels justified because of what she’s gone through. So, she’s in this situation where she’s like, ‘This is who I am.’ She does this fucking horrible thing. But can she change? That’s really the question, can I end up this way with all this hate or whatever it is because of this system? Can you find a hole in the wall around your mind and go outside of it and see things differently? Really the question is can you have empathy and change? Every day’s a new chance.”
The Bad Batch is now available online. Watch the trailer below: