Leave it to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to concoct an apocalyptic, circus-like shindig to celebrate the upcoming June 23rd release of The Bad Batch from gifted genre filmmaker, Ana Lily Amirpour. The director downright stunned audiences and critics alike with her black and white, Iranian, spaghetti western, vampire, love story entitled A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, and The Bad Batch, her newest film, seemed to follow none of what made her debut feature so successful. The Bad Batch appeared to be a high velocity, ultra violent cinematic spasm from another world far removed from that which is depicted in A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, and after viewing the early Austin, TX screening of the film, I’d say I was right on the money.
The Bad Batch showing was held out at Stunt Ranch, on the outskirts of the Capitol of The Lone Star State, with plenty of Lone Star Beer, quality BBQ courtesy of Mickletwhaite’s Craft Meats, and stunt shenanigans to partake in. There was an area to throw axes at targets, a zip line, high dive jump, obstacle course, and acrobats enticing you to test your skills and wits alongside them. Austin native and one of the first ever brewing cooperatives, Black Star Brewing Company was also on hand, to unveil their Bad Batch session brew. A delightful, smoky, amber colored easy drinking beer, which went down well with the roasted pig and sausage BBQ plates served to movie goers. Right next to the large BBQ area where the grub was being served, was the ridiculously awesome photo op being offered. Complete with a bevy of beautiful “pregnant” babes, machine guns, mustaches, sunglasses, and blue silk bathrobes to adorn yourself in, attendees had the ability to ‘live the dream, be The Dream’ like Keanu Reeves in The Bad Batch, in front of a truck rigged with pyrotechnics. Everyone appeared to be having a blast, including Director Ana Lily Amirpour and star Suki Waterhouse, smiles on faces and Lone Star Beers in hand . They both were completely gracious and engaging the capacity crowd with photos, chats, and laughter.
Before the feature presentation began under the starry Texas sky, we got a joyous introduction from Amirpour and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema founder and life-long movie lover, Mr. Tim League. Despite a recent rowdy bike injury sustained by the theatre’s frontman, he was in great spirits and more than happy to introduce to us all, one of Neon films, first features listed in their catalog. In case you haven’t yet been informed, and enjoy provocative, unique, smart genre entertainment, now is the time to rejoice. League and Tom Quinn ( formerly of RADiUS ) teamed up to create the distribution company, Neon which The Bad Batch is under. “It’s a trip you are about to go on and I’m really interested to see the look on your face afterwards” said Ana Lily. In her pleasant, laid back style, added “I dropped a long sleeve, cream colored silk shirt, holes in the armpits, I’ve had many a interesting psychedelic journey in that shirt………if anyone can find it……..” Almost without skipping a beat, Tim League says, “You have two jobs people! One, tell your friends and spread the word about The Bad Batch out June 23rd. Two, find that Goddamn shirt, man!” Cue loud applause and laughter. Oh my, there is love and the smell of cooking meat in the air!
Find The Dream. Find Comfort. Find That Goddamn Shirt.
After being mercilessly dropped off on the other side of an unassuming gate in a desert wasteland, Arlen ( Suki Waterhouse ) chomps down almost just as mercilessly on a fast food burger. She scopes out the dismal terrain, seemingly preparing herself for what’s ahead. Arlen finds a paper flyer with the words “Find The Dream. Find Comfort.” in simple, plain black text. Comfort, for our gal Arlen, is not to be found any time soon. Shit goes down and goes down quickly for the petite, young, blonde castaway. Almost immediately she is captured, chained, and drugged by marauding desert dwellers inside this vicious and voided territory in Texas. Actress Suki Waterhouse did indeed undergo a memorable and life-altering experience while filming, revealing that she now sports a scar on her upper arm due to a scene filmed during The Bad Batch, and carries a strong fear of Crows. “The Crows…..yeah, I thought they were going to peck my face off. They were flapping their wings, and in my hair……..” The rather demure and ever so cordial Miss Suki really seemed down with the whole process though and effortlessly gave her perspective of filming and her character of Arlen alongside the creator, Amirpour. In a rather rare occasion nowadays, The Bad Batch was shot pretty much sequentially and to get the lead actress Waterhouse on board with this whole thing, and make her aware of the tenacity and grit needed for the role, Ana Lily took the native Brit to a dark Mexican Food joint, loading her up on carbs and commenting to Suki, “You’re gonna suffer more than you can even imagine.” Apparently Suki was up for the challenge, daily being covered in sweat, dirt, dust, ‘blood’, and ‘shit’, enduring intense heat and taking it all in stride. Even nailing down that endearing West Texas accent.
As I mentioned before, Waterhouse’s character quickly finds herself in a horrific predicament, presenting movie goers with a scene where you would least expect to hear the radio friendly 90s band Ace Of Base and their mindnumbingly catchy tune “All She Wants” In an unflinching demonstration of just how dire circumstances are for Arlen and the inhabitants of the wasteland she was thrown into, the volume on an archaic stereo is begrudgingly turned up, in hopes to help drown out the tortured screams from the chained young woman as a handsaw is used to remove her arm. The sinister sound of sizzling meat quickly follows. The sound design in The Bad Batch is intense to say the least, more than effectively making an often overlooked component to filmmaking, really valuable for the viewer. Ana Lily shares that she is 30% hard of hearing and has a very particular sense of sound, and place, and what she sees and hears.
The captive newcomer sits wounded and alone in the sand after the violent amputation, appearing to her aggressors hopeless and invalid. But this is an Amirpour film, and she digs strong, resilient ladies in her flicks. Embarking on a crusade, clawing and dragging herself through the desert on a old school skateboard she swiped, Arlen is hellbent on finding Comfort. Instead though, a disheveled, filthy, hermit-like Jim Carrey finds her. You have never ever seen Carrey like this, and the Director was absolutely thrilled to have him agree to the physically unflattering character and unprecedented scope he would be seen in. He took his part pretty damn seriously, with Amirpour and Suki both commenting on how he researched folks who lived deep in the deserts, even living for a time in an area similar to that which is the formidable backdrop of The Bad Batch. Ana Lily, speaking of the Hermit character the famous actor portrays, says during the Q&A, “He’s the soul of this crazy, violent world……..the humanity.”
Humanity is teetering on the edge of extinction in The Bad Batch. Moral quandaries that can accompany those age-old survival instincts play key roles and assist in directing the traffic upon this cinematic stage created by Amirpour. After Arlen engages in a impulsive and emotional act, she acquires a pint size tagalong, but is reluctant to welcome the company. Unknown to both, Miami Man ( Jason Momoa ) the youngsters father and body building cannibal clan leader, begins a relentless search for his daughter throughout the desolate Texas landscape. Most well known for his role as Khal Drogo in the enormously popular Game of Thrones series, Momoa brought much to the creative table of The Bad Batch. The skateboard Arlen drags herself through the desert on is Jason’s beloved high school board and the knives Miami Man carries are actually his own. Momoa even designed the pants his character wears in the film. “You just want to bite onto him….” Amirpour jokingly says. Also demonstrating his acting work ethic, he practiced the art of butchering with his director, to help ensure a nasty cannibalistic realism, which to me is impressive.
Something often proven true in real life is, where there’s pain and misery, there is the need and consumption of illicit substances to try and soften the crushing blows life can throw at you. It is no different within the land of The Bad Batch, and the purveyor of limited chemical pleasure and happiness is none other than The Dream, played so well by Keanu Reeves ( who rocks his first ever on screen mustache ). Building his own empire, in the dusty emptiness, The Dream surrounds himself with hallucinogenic drugs and beautiful woman he impregnates. Instead of creating an instantly hated and repulsive villain, Ana Lily gives us Keanu in a blue, silk bathrobe, some killer shades and rhetoric that could easily be related to.
“They say you can catch more flies with honey, but who wants flies?”- The Dream
Reeves, much like Jim Carrey in this film, partake in a unorthodox role for themselves. The Director happily shares, “Keanu is such a sweet, kind person” going on to say that after two bottles of wine and a discussion of his potential character and the film itself, he respectfully told her, that after their chat, if she felt any apprehension at all, it was OK. He simply wanted her to do what was right for her movie and vision. “I’m going to show you my level of commitment” she told Reeves, humorously revealing that she hired an airbrush artist to paint a portrait of the movie star with “The Dream” printed below his likeness. Suki chimes in like a schoolgirl with a crush, “I remember the first time I met him, he came over your ( Amirpour’s ) house on his motorcycle and I was like aaaahhhhhhhhhhhh.”
I was like aaaaaahhhhhh when Arlen takes a healthy dose of a psychedelic drug, obtained from The Dream, and subsequently leads us into a fantastic sequence of unconventional and chemically induced scenes. Arlens speech, thought patterns, movements, the way everything seems to breathe and makes sense, fondly reminded me of going on similar journeys. It truly was a gorgeous moment in a very visually appealing movie. During her foray into the fringes of the expanded mind though, Miami Man finally catches up to her. She soon realizes, that in this unpredictable and volatile world now desperately needed to be navigated, she must choose every move and ally wisely. I wish to not share more of the unpredictable tale of The Bad Batch, in hopes to not spoil anyones experience and allow for those priceless surprises to present themselves, so I hope you all enjoy the film.
“The darkest corner on Earth, and we are afraid of our own kind.” – Arlen
Ana Lily’s films are technical marvels in many ways, with impeccable framing and lighting, and as I mentioned before, the focus on sound. The DP on The Bad Batch, Lyle Vincent excelled at his craft throughout a film that had no soundstages and entirely filmed in rather extreme, mighty hot climates. Also adding to the challenges, was the fact Amirpour is a massive fan of practical effects, insisting Arlens amputated limbs not be digitally rendered, wanting instead to utilize in-camera practical make-up strategies. This required thoroughly planning out shots and creative storyboarding in some unforgiving locations. When asked if there was ever a day during filming, where she was like, ‘what the fuck did I get myself into?’ Ana Lily reflected for a moment then said, “I was a 1000% alive during filming, everyday was extreme.” Everything about this answer demonstrated the sincere gratitude she holds for having the opportunities to live her life long dream of being a professional filmmaker. She has been making films since she was 12 years old and graduated from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television as well as completing several feature length scripts over the past several years. For some reason, before the success of her debut film A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night during the famed Sundance Film Festival in 2014, Hollywood paid little attention to the creator. But she never gave up, kept writing, kept pushing forward and should serve as an enormous source of inspiration to many for this fact alone. Amirpour is a very spirited, intense, engaging and uncompromising individual. Attributes I believe which are valuable, perhaps needed in genre filmmakers today. After the Q&A, Suki Waterhouse and Director Amirpour stayed to answer further questions from movie goers and to meet fans, take photos. They both seemed to enjoy this, and took their time with each person who approached them, greeting everyone warmly. I overheard someone tell Ana Lily, “thank you so much for visiting Austin and………and…….really help to inspire me to continue with my own dreams.” I can tell it took a lot for that person to say this to her. I look over at the Director and see that this comment legitimately moved her. Her voice cracked just a wee bit as she replied, “That means so much. That is one of the greatest compliments to receive.” and proceeded to give a meaningful hug to the fan. This woman is a successful, unique, and important part of the new wave of genre entertainment, and it makes me so fucking excited.
And in case anyone was wondering, Ana Lily’s shirt was found and returned to her.
photos & video shot by Eric Lopez firstname.lastname@example.org
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