I had not heard about The Bad Batch until a few hours prior to seeing it, which I think was to the film’s benefit. I was looking for clues as to where the narrative was going, and the film’s opening few minutes gave me lots to grab onto. The opening is well shot and incredibly mysterious: we hear what sounds like a prison announcer over the PA. We see a woman get “BB5080” tattooed behind her ear (BB is the initialism from which the movie takes its title). She is then thrown through a chain link gate which is locked behind her. A sign declares that she has left the United States and no longer has any rights, finishing with a chilling “Good luck.”
The rest of the film’s opening is solid. It sets up a harsh inhospitable world where desperate people are doing – and becoming – anything to survive. It promises a diverse and interesting cast of characters: there’s a nymphomaniac with a saviour complex, a muscly bruiser who’s also a gentle artist, as well as several weird one-off characters. It’s all good stuff. But the issues start cropping up early and only become worse by the end.
The principal problem is that there’s very little actually happening, which unfortunately translates into a lack of emotional and narrative depth. It’s truly baffling how little The Bad Batch’s characters actually do and say. They spend a majority of the film’s runtime sitting, standing or walking silently. This tells us that they’re depressed, but that’s as far as it goes. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the average scene in this movie contains no meaningful dialogue or actions whatsoever.
The film, and I may be reaching here, is attempting to tell a story about depression, feeling lost and the inhumanity of the real-life prison system. However, this is all done through symbolism so vague, and without narrative context I feel like I’m still spitballing. Given that I’ve spent the better part of two days thinking about The Bad Batch, I feel this reveals the film’s attempt to explore these themes as ultimately unsuccessful.
Visually, the film is pretty one-note. The desert setting is good, and is used to mirror the emotional wasteland that the characters inhabit. Unfortunately, the film relies too much on this connection, and refuses to take us anywhere else. By the end, the desert is tired and revealed to be as shallow as the rest of the film.
The camerawork is frustrating because it’s often right up in the characters’ faces. Without anyone doing or saying anything, it just comes off as an attempted cover for the film’s lack of activity.
The Bad Batch begs you to take it seriously. It so badly wants to be seen as a serious arthouse film, but it lacks anything resembling an acceptable narrative which, in turn, causes all the meticulously constructed symbolism to collapse in on itself. If you’re willing to watch it, there is enough to grab onto here to have some sort of discussion. But it’s ultimately boring and not worth the effort.
I saw The Bad Batch through the Riotous Film Society. Check them out on Facebook!
If you want to watch The Bad Batch, it’s on Netflix.