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Suki Waterhouse in “The Bad Batch”
Suki Waterhouse in “The Bad Batch”Courtesy of Neon

This cannibal film is terrifying because it could be real

Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch is a heightened allegory for the dark days ahead

The Bad Batch is a film about a girl who gets her leg sawed off by a group of cannibals. She’s tethered to a chunk of fuselage, gagged and essentially left for dead. Over her muffled screams, Ace of Base’s “All That She Wants” plays from a boombox. These are the opening minutes of Ana Lily Amirpour’s sophomore feature film, the follow-up to her Iranian vampire film, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Before she loses another precious limb to the barbeque, Arlen (played by Suki Waterhouse) has to free herself and find refuge as the cannibals chow down to the tunes of the late 90s. This dichotomy is both hilarious and terrifying. Do I… laugh? Scream? Shit myself? These are questions I pondered throughout the film’s two-hour runtime.

The Bad Batch is faster-paced and equally as gorgeous as Amirpour’s first film – a sweeping desert landscape populated with societal lepyrs (and probably some real ones, too). The movie was filmed in Slab City, California, an abandoned “off-grid” desert town that once promised to be a getaway for stars like Frank Sinatra in the 1940s. Then the manmade lake dried up and all that was left were dead fish and broken promises. Since, it’s been a haven for squatters living off of food stamps or people looking to escape the realities of Trump’s America.

For Amirpour, it was the ideal location to tell her story of survival: one that wasn’t some dystopic future but rather set in the present day. The world is fucked up, and it’s hypnotic to watch it play out in this cannabalistic allegory. There is a Wall covered in barbed wire that separates the cannibals from the outcasts, who live in Comfort. Comfort is overlorded by Keanu Reeves, who we find out is not just here to dole out fun at his late-night EDM parties, but has a much more sinister agenda. Jim Carrey, in his most unrecognisable role to date, wanders the desert as a sort of peacekeeper; he attempts to help anybody who seeks it with cryptic grunts. And Arlen (Waterhouse’s character) is just trying to avoid being dinner.

The Bad Batch is fascinating, simple and weirdly representative of where we’re at – will I have my arm sawed off tomorrow? What will it take to live in Comfort, on the right side of the wall? Perhaps lofty questions, but possible nonetheless. I don’t have health insurance and a giant wall could be built to keep Mexicans out of the US. The film leaves you with more questions than answers, but Ana Lily Amirpour and Suki Waterhouse see it more of a love letter to the country than a critique of the direction its headed. If everything goes to shit, I guess we can just relocate to Slab City…

Where’d you get the idea of the story taking place in a cannibal wasteland?

Ana Lily Amirpour: I think this desert (version of) America came from reality. I just feel like it’s a man eat man world, quite literally. People tear each other to pieces for reasons that are far more difficult to understand than just hunger.

Yeah, like Black Friday sales.

Ana Lily Amirpour: Yeah, exactly.

Suki Waterhouse: That’s just crazy.

Ana Lily Amirpour: Oh my God, can you even believe it? The tension, the anger, the temper.

Suki Waterhouse: Do people die at Black Friday sales?

10 people have died as a result of Black Friday.

Suki Waterhouse: Have they really?

Ana Lily Amirpour: What's up with that? How do you explain that?

I don’t know. I know the idea of dystopia has been brought up a lot when discussing the film. I read that you said it’s more just like the present moment. We’re living in it now.

Ana Lily Amirpour: It’s an allegorisation of the present moment. All the emotions and things that I see in the world are what I see in this film and in all the characters.

What do you mean by that?

Ana Lily Amirpour: If we’re talking about the human race, or Americans, it’s an American fairytale; an American love letter to America. I don’t need the things that I love to be perfect; I see them for what they are. I think there’s a lot of independence in America. I feel like what (Suki Waterhouse’s character) Arlen has that I like is this will to look past the walls that are around her, and that’s brave. And that’s what I like about us as a country, that we do still ask difficult questions and question things.

But, at the same time, this weird systemic tension and conflict. The thing about The Bad Batch for me was this idea that every single character is the star of their own movie, like we are in life, and so sometimes these movies overlap and everybody is able to justify their own life, their own things they’ve gone through and why they are the way they are – how come we end up having so much tension all the time? And I don’t really have a conclusion, but I do think each person can try to take note of the choices they’re making.

I want to talk to you about the music that you use, especially Ace of Base. 

Ana Lily Amirpour: Yeah, what a joy to resurrect (“All That She Wants”) in such a fun way.

Did you have that in mind before you filmed it at all?

Ana Lily Amirpour: Honestly, there was another quite well-known 80s pop song in that spot.

What song?

Ana Lily Amirpour: It was a song by Wham!, and it was way out of my price range. When I heard (the cost) I was like, I’m gonna go and make a whole other movie for the price of that! But it’s weird when you’re making art. When I’m making a film, when something I was thinking or planning for doesn’t go that way, I’m always like, ‘OK, that little fishy had to fly off, so this new little fishy’s gonna fly towards me. I wonder what the new fishy’s gonna be,’ you know?

It fits perfectly.

Ana Lily Amirpour: Crazy perfect.

There are a lot of lovable weirdos in the movie that appear in the fictional utopia of Comfort.

Ana Lily Amirpour: A lot of them are just the real fine, wonderfully bizarre and interesting people that live in a place called Slab City, near the Salton Sea (in California). There’s a very, very large off-the-grid desert community.

Suki Waterhouse: A couple of them were amputees as well.

Oh really?

Ana Lily Amirpour: There are a couple of amputees in Slab City and every other amputee that’s in the film is an amputee.

Suki Waterhouse: At the party I was hanging out with real amputees.

Ana Lily Amirpour: I just got to visit with some of them, shoot the film there and absorb them into the kind of DNA of the story and stuff, you know?

Did anyone in particular strike you as interesting?

Ana Lily Amirpour: Yeah, I met this man named Ron, who lived in Bombay Beach for 18 years. Remember Ron?

Suki Waterhouse: Is he the one that had the horse?

Ana Lily Amirpour: A horse? Oh no, no. Those were donkeys.

Suki Waterhouse: Donkeys.

Ana Lily Amirpour: There’s a guy that lives in Slab City that has two donkeys.

Suki Waterhouse: He was like a real cowboy. 

Ana Lily Amirpour: Yeah, he was like a real cowboy. But it’s a real mix of people.

Suki Waterhouse: I mean skin like a leather purse.

Ana Lily Amirpour: Because he’s been in the sun, like, every day.

“When they’re too high or something, it’s hard for me to... I can understand and connect with people that are on altered (consciousness). But meth specifically… No” – Ana Lily Amirpour

Suki Waterhouse: But those houses, where we were shooting, there were all these places ’cos everyone left Slab City ’cos of the sea? Salton Sea, I think. It was gonna be famous.

Ana Lily Amirpour: Salton Sea was gonna be a vacation spot for Frank Sinatra back in the 40s. Then, what happened was that the salt level in the lake went haywire and then all the fish died and washed up on the shore. You know about the Salton Sea?

No, I don’t.

Ana Lily Amirpour: All the fish died in this manmade lake and it was like bones. All the sand around the entire lake, if you look at it, it's bones of fish. And it’s below sea-level, so the heat is really, really quite dry and hot and intense.

Suki Waterhouse: So there’s a smell; a thick smell.

Ana Lily Amirpour: There’s a smell of dead fish, that for 40 years has never dissipated.

Oh wow.

Suki Waterhouse: But you go into these houses and people obviously left quite quickly, because I went into these houses and there are fossilised cats on the floor and people’s clothes.

Ana Lily Amirpour: I think the thing that struck me was, ’cos I started going there a year before I shot the film. Slab City, where they’re camping in the desert, they don’t have internet. The way I communicated with them was to go there and hang out with them, which I really quite liked because (of the) real human interaction. They’re really lovely people and it was like a ticket to an adventure in your own fascination. So I get to go there and spend a year hanging out with people I never would have come across otherwise.

You were saying about how Ron was so fascinating.

Ana Lily Amirpour: Ron, yeah, he was one of the first guys I met. He’s been living in Bombay Beach for 18 years, this old, kind of groovy black dude. He’s in the shot when they find (Arlen). I threw him in as many scenes as I liked. He was like, ‘Put me in the movie’, you know? Yeah, he was just lovely. Jordan was cool. One of the first kids I met that lived in Slab City at the skate park. He was living in his van. He’s got this kind of bleach blonde mohawk. You know when (Arlen) is passing out flyers, he’s the first one that she goes up to and says, ‘Have you seen this kid?’ Yeah, he was one of the first.

Suki Waterhouse: And the girl with no leg was living with him in Slab City. She’s kind of like, doing a lot of meth.

Ana Lily Amirpour: A lot of meth, yeah. When they’re too high or something, it's hard for me to... I can understand and connect with people that are on altered…

Consciousness?

Ana Lily Amirpour: But meth specifically… No.

You don’t put them in the film then? 

Ana Lily Amirpour: No, they’re there but I just cant connect deeply. But Jordan was a more psychedelic kind of a guy.

Suki Waterhouse: There was a real-life pregnant woman that’s in the movie, that was skinny as a rake, pregnant, probably not too healthy. That was difficult to see.

Yolandi Visser had this unlikely influence on the film, too. How so?

Ana Lily Amirpour: Oh man, Die Antwoord has influenced me and they inspire me as a human since I discovered that they exist. I was just like what wonderfully unique, bold, fun, smart— I love them. If you saw my first film (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night), Ninja very much inspired my pimp in my first film, and Yolandi crept into this film. Obviously the winky shorts from ‘Baby’s On Fire’ and I just worship them; they’re amazing.

The Bad Batch is out in US cinemas now