One of my favorite movies out of Fantastic Fest 2016 (read my review here) was Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch, which follows a young woman named Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), who is released from a secretive prison into the desert and must fend for herself against a group of cannibals led by Miami Man (Jason Momoa). Once she escapes their clutches, she finds respite at a nearby commune called “Comfort,” which is overseen by the enigmatic figure known only as “The Dream” (Keanu Reeves, who couldn’t be more perfectly cast in this role).
But as Arlen struggles with her new existence and her own rage, she makes some terrible decisions one fateful afternoon that sets off a dangerous chain of events. Arlen will stop at nothing to find a way to make amends with those she’s wronged, and figure out just how she fits into the world, forever branded as “Bad Batch.”
At the recent press day for The Bad Batch, Daily Dead had the opportunity to sit down and chat with both Amirpour and Waterhouse about their collaboration, and during the interview the pair discussed everything from Amirpour’s unusual storytelling approach to finding purpose in life, to how desensitized audiences have become to violence over the last few years (and much more).
The Bad Batch arrives in theaters, and on VOD and various digital platforms this Friday, June 23rd, courtesy of Neon.
Watching Bad Batch a second time, I completely fell in love with this movie all over again. Sometimes, you see a movie at a festival, and you're like, "Okay, was I just on the festival high or something?" But watching it again, I loved it even more because I got to pick up on a lot of details that I'd missed that first time. So, again, congratulations
Ana Lily Amirpour: Thank you.
Ana, I know we talked about the fact that there was limited dialogue in the film, but for your character, Suki, I think what is so amazing is the first 20 minutes or so, I don't even think you speak other than we hear you scream. How daunting was that for you coming into this, knowing that this is a character, who, for most of it, was going to be more of a physical performance than a vocal one.
Suki Waterhouse: Yeah, I didn't think about that too much, and then Jason [Momoa] said something interesting in Venice. He was like, "It's actually quite hard to not speak a lot," because you're just like, "I'm not fu**ing doing anything. I'm just not doing anything." And it was true. When I watched it, it's like, "No, you didn't need to speak," and it actually gives so much more room for everyone to decide what they want to decide when you're not talking.
That scene was the first day, and then, when I was getting my arm chopped off, I didn't know how I was going to do it. I was just like, "Okay, she's sawing my arm." Like, "Ah," and then just kept screaming and screaming and going fu**ing mental until I wanted to pass out, basically. So yeah, it was just guttural screaming.
Ana Lily Amirpour: Yeah, because once you're chained up even, and you're actually chained up, to some degree, so it's like, "Oh, okay." It was a pretty terrifying situation to find yourself in. I was showing her, thinking in terms of what kind of movie was going to be made, movies by Sergio Leone, westerns, and even El Topo. Because, a lot of the time, you're taken into a visual world, where there's other elements than dialogue, as far as how you interact with the world.
I love your stylistic choices between this and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Do you feel like it's a bigger challenge for you as a director to make films like this, where you pull back from the dialogue? Because I've seen movies that over-explain everything, and they just exposition you to death sometimes. Do you feel like, for you, it's a bigger challenge coming into something like this, where you have a lot of these ideas that you have to make work on a visual level, and then get people to connect with them?
Ana Lily Amirpour: I mean, honestly, I can't answer that, because it would be like trying to understand the whims of every person. If you think of music, there's many different kinds, and if we suddenly only had mass-produced radio pop music, that wouldn't be great. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but it's cool to have different feelings and different places to disappear inside of.
And I guess, for me, I'm just doing what feels like a place I want to be, and want to create and exist, for the story. And then you just hope that people get welcomed into the experience and go on the ride. You know what I mean?
Definitely. And what I think is really interesting about Arlen, for as much as she's a hero, you have to remember, she was in “Bad Batch” for a reason. It was interesting, going back and watching the decisions that she makes, and how part of this journey then becomes about her making amends for those decisions. Can you talk about going into that headspace and finding this character, because she's not just a black and white character, She does make some questionable decisions at times that have really major implications on a lot of different characters.
Ana Lily Amirpour: Yes, she does some fu**ed up shit.
Suki Waterhouse: Yeah, she has dark and light in her. And it's explored as we go through this story, and it’s not like that necessarily all goes away at the end, either. But I think we all have that. We all have multitudes inside of us. And it's a little bit of a coming of age, in that she is incredibly selfish in the beginning, and, for me, it was a lot about finding purpose. I was struggling with that at the time of filming, or before, and it’s something I still struggle with personally all the time, where it's like, "What am I here for? What am I doing to be a solution for something?"
Ana Lily Amirpour: She does do hideously heinous things from her choices. I think a lot of characters do. It's interesting that Miami Man brutally kills and eats two people in the span of the film and you somehow see him, as like–
Suki Waterhouse: An anti-hero, in a way.
Ana Lily Amirpour: Yeah, as a good guy.
Suki Waterhouse: Exactly.
Ana Lily Amirpour: So, I think it's really interesting how manipulative a movie can be. Because she does some heinous things–
Suki Waterhouse: But we don't hate any of them.
Ana Lily Amirpour: I don't, and I hope audiences don’t, either. I feel like the system, if you track back from any individual, you can find something about their story that took them to where they are. And it's more about, is there a way to get to a point where you break your own cycle of behavior and just choose something different than what you've been doing? And Arlen starts doing that in the movie, and that's what I find, ultimately, really brave about her character.
And I think what's interesting is that we have all made stupid decisions. And for me, that's the most compelling part, is that end with Miel [Jayda Fink], Miami Man’s daughter, I just love that in the end it's almost like this whole film is about her, because of what Keanu says. He says, “The dream is life.” And In the end it's all about this little girl, and it didn't hit me the first time, but last night watching, I was like, "Oh my God, that's beautiful." I also think it helps ground these characters who maybe make bad decisions, and you realize that maybe they're doing it for the right reasons.
Ana Lily Amirpour: Yes, I wrote that. It's weird because I've had really interesting conversations where people who are wondering about, how can she be so bad, and what's up with the morality, and want answers or something. Sometimes, I just think it's interesting because I feel like, as a movie watching culture or population, imagine, in the last week, I don't know how many movies you've seen, or TV shows, how many deaths were there? And how many violent scenes were there? A shitload, right?
Yeah, for sure.
Ana Lily Amirpour: And like, how many did you clock and register and feel? We're desensitized to death, and to violence, in a way that's so incredibly interesting to me. I think it's interesting if you force a monkey wrench into that, and you're like, "You're going to feel this in a different way than you normally would."
But don't get me wrong, I go to movies for many different reasons, and I love movies, I love Tarantino movies where they talk the whole time to each other. I love Nancy Meyers movies, cause I just want to be in a nice kitchen and watch these privileged people figure out how to deal with their divorce. I love that, though. It's comfort food. I like different movies for different reasons. I think it is interesting, though, the good and bad thing, because in The Bad Batch, I don't think there’s an easy answer as to who's good or bad. Well, except the Hermit, maybe.
What's interesting, too, is that Arlen goes to Comfort, because it sounds like the place you want to be. It sounds like the life you want, if this is where you have to exist, and yet you realize soon enough that it's all a façade. And really, what Comfort is, is you figuring out what it is you want out of life. And I just thought that was really cool because you can either live with a façade of a life, or you can really go and ask yourself hard questions and figure things out. And I just thought it was a really compelling way to pull it all together in the end.
Ana Lily Amirpour: That's joyously accurate to how my mind was thinking about everything. So that's like—you're my people. That's pretty much exactly some of the stuff that I was thinking and saying about that scene. You totally got it.
Before we go, I want to ask you, Suki, in terms of being out in the desert and wearing the leg brace thing, how much did that help you go deep into the character of Arlen? Because it's one thing to maybe read a script at home, and you're in your own environment, but now you're out there and you're in the middle of this desert, and you really have to put yourself out there for this character?
Suki Waterhouse: Yeah, of course, you put all of it on in the morning, and it's a big process. You get all muddied up and tattooed and get your big brace on and your gummy arm, and you look in the mirror, and you're like, "Wow, okay." But even before we started shooting, I felt like, it's weird, you look in the mirror and I started seeing myself change. I don't know, it's really creepy. I started looking like someone I didn’t even recognize, so I think that process really helped me.