A famous supermodel stands in a Brooklyn warehouse dressed like a time-traveling ‘80s prom queen, all teased hair and shoulder pads. The crowd in front of her shifts on their folding chairs, some watching her speak, others indifferent as they shuffle across the cement floor to find the bar. It’s hard to tell if the projector flashing a film’s end credits across the model’s face was there on purpose or if someone had forgotten to turn it off.
This wasn’t a quirky art installation or a scene from indie filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour’s newest movie The Bad Batch, starring model Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, and Keanu Reeves. It was a screening of the film — but it would not have been out of place as a scene in it.
The story is set in a dystopian future in which “bad batch” members of American society are cast out to fend for themselves in a desert wasteland. It isn’t explained why, nor is it explained what any of the characters did to get cast out. The Bad Batch is not interested in backstories. It’s consumed with one simple question: What if Mad Max didn’t have an overarching plot with themes about capitalism, and just … was?
Equally important follow-up questions include: “What if Keanu Reeves led a sex cult?” and “What if Jason Momoa was an artistic cannibal with a questionable Cuban accent, for some reason?” and “What if a supermodel shit herself and got her limbs cut off in the first 15 minutes of a movie?”
These questions are not enough for a story that feels fleshed out beyond the literal flesh of its cannibalism elements. But they are enough to create one of the summer’s most memorably insane movies.
Sure, there are gestures at a story. There’s a loose plot about Jason Momoa’s sensitive artistic Cuban body-builder cannibal looking for his daughter in a way that is reminiscent of John Wick looking for his dog. There are some borderline racist dynamics, which Ana Lily Amirpour has landed in hot water over. With the vicious community of cannibals and the seemingly peaceful alternative community which doesn’t cannibalize, The Bad Batch has a half-assed political analogy about haves and have-nots, and the true price of consumerism.
But that gets lost in the shuffle of things like lingering shots on cannibal body builders, because why the hell not?
And let’s face it, if you’re watching The Bad Batch, you’re watching it for Keanu Reeve’s oily, pornstached sex cult leader and the backdrop of cannibalism. On this front, it delivers.
His character is a man only known as “the Dream,” who has his own catchphrase: “You can’t enter the Dream, the Dream enters you.” The women he impregnates wears shirts reading, “The Dream is inside me.” He gives his followers free acid and tomatoes in crystal bowls, and he wears giant designer sunglasses at night.
Bad Batch’s rising action — if you could even call it that — involves “the Dream” trying to lure Suki Waterhouse’s character into his cult with a long speech using toilets flushing away shit as an analogy. Everything about the film makes you want to shower after watching it, and yet you can’t look away.
The Bad Batch is Mad Max: Fury Road without the fury, the road, or any plot whatsoever. But it doesn’t really need one if you think about it as the missing dystopian chapter of John Wick’s future.
The Bad Batch is currently in select theaters.