Friday, September 29, 2017

On DVD/Blu-ray: THE BAD BATCH (2017) and IT STAINS THE SANDS RED (2017)

(US - 2017)

In the first ten minutes of THE BAD BATCH, heroine Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is banished to a vaguely post-apocalyptic desert wasteland in Texas, abducted by marauding cannibals who hack off her right arm and right leg and cook them on a grill, then she covers herself in her own shit to make the rest of herself less appetizing. So begins writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour's followup to the acclaimed A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT. THE BAD BATCH is a bigger film with bigger names, but it's definitely a classic case of a sophomore slump. Arlen manages to escape her flesh-eating captors and is taken by a mute, nameless hermit (Jim Carrey, of all people) to a makeshift town called Comfort, ruled by a guru-like cult figure known as The Dream (Keanu Reeves, looking like Joe Spinell circa MANIAC). After encountering one of the women who initially abducted her, Arlen, now sporting a prosthetic leg, kills her and takes the woman's young daughter Honey (Jayda Fink) back to Comfort. Honey was stolen from her father Miami Man (Jason Momoa) with the intention of grooming her for a life of sexual servitude to The Dream. Miami Man--himself a cannibal but hey, he's a sympathetic flesh eater and a loving father with artistic talent-- then ventures into the desert and enlists the aid of Arlen and the hermit to find his daughter.

After an intriguingly strange opening act, THE BAD BATCH just goes nowhere. Repetitive scenes of people walking through the desert and mumbling give the film the distinct feeling of an '80s post-nuke fused with Gus Van Sant's GERRY. An endless mid-film acid trip after a rave at The Dream's stops the film cold and it never recovers. Waterhouse is OK in the lead, but Amirpour can't decide if the focus should be on Arlen or Miami Man, a quandary that isn't helped by Momoa sporting one of the worst accents ever heard in a movie. He's supposed to be from Cuba, but he sounds like Mushmouth trying to do a Scarface impression, making about 90% of his dialogue unintelligible without putting on the subtitles. There's some nice cinematography and the film's vision of a dystopian hellscape is intermittently effective, as are some incongruously '80s and '90s-sounding music choices by present-day indie bands like Federale, whose track "All the Colours of the Dark" is used in a nicely-done montage. At the same time, a woman getting her neck snapped to Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon" and Arlen getting her arm sawed off to Ace of Base's "All That She Wants" comes off as silly and pointless, and reeking of "Well, we got the clearance on these songs, so I guess we have to use them." Watching THE BAD BATCH, it's apparent that Amirpour had the beginnings of an idea but didn't know where to take it. There's certainly some political commentary to be mined from a fenced-off area of Texas, deporting undesirables--"The Bad Batch"--to the harsh outside, and Miami Man being an illegal immigrant, but Amirpour doesn't bother. She also wastes a potentially interesting supporting cast, with Giovanni Ribisi serving no purpose whatsoever as a nutcase called "The Screamer," Reeves getting a long monologue about where shit travels after it's excreted, and the unexpected casting of a silent, grizzled, barely recognizable Carrey in easily the strangest role of his career. Agonizingly overlong at just shy of two hours, and low-key to the point of catatonia, THE BAD BATCH is a barely half-baked concoction that falls almost completely flat and fails to follow through on the promise Amirpour displayed with her impressive debut. (R, 119 mins)


(Canada/US - 2017)

Under their collaborative moniker "The Vicious Brothers," Colin Minahan and Stuart Ortiz earned a small degree of cult notoriety among horror scenesters with their 2011 found-footage debut GRAVE ENCOUNTERS. The wrote and produced that film's 2012 sequel, and they wrote 2014's EXTRATERRESTRIAL, with Minahan directing solo. That arrangement continues with IT STAINS THE SANDS RED, the duo's day-late-and-a-dollar-short contribution to the zombie apocalypse genre. There's a couple of clever ideas here, but they're enough for maybe a 15-minute short film as opposed to a padded, laborious, 92-minute slog. Opening in medias res with the zombie invasion underway and Las Vegas in ruins, we're introduced to stripper Molly (Brittany Allen, also the star of EXTRATERRESTRIAL) and boyfriend Nick (Merwin Mondesir) speeding down a desert highway on their way to an air field where one of his friends has offered to fly them into Mexico. The car gets stuck in the sand as one lone, shambling zombie (Juan Riedlinger) approaches. Nick wastes his remaining bullets trying to shoot it in the head and is eventually killed and eaten when he tries to get out of the car to retrieve his dropped cell phone. Molly gathers what supplies she can--water, smokes, and a vial of coke--and begins hoofing it 30 miles through the desert in her Gene Simmons platform shoes with the zombie following in persistent pursuit. It moves slow enough that she can get a good distance and take periodic breaks, but it never stops and never gets tired, sort-of like a zombie version of IT FOLLOWS.

That's a nifty idea for a short film, but Minahan and Ortiz really struggle to get this thing to 90 minutes. Once the premise is established, along with a gross but admittedly clever bit where she manages to distract the zombie--who she eventually names "Smalls"--by offering it her bloody tampon to munch on while she gets a head start on her next getaway, this thing runs out of gas in record time. Minahan shoots in a saturated and frequently garish style that's more ugly than anything, and hardly any time has elapsed before Molly's babbling to herself and Minhan's already breaking out the surreal, grotesque, NATURAL BORN KILLERS-esque flourishes. She eventually forms a bizarre kinship with Smalls that comes out of nowhere and makes no sense--she even declines rescue from military personnel on one occasion because she doesn't want to leave the zombie alone. There's also a pointless detour involving a pair of yahoos who rescue then rape her, and she keeps having flashbacks to the son she abandoned in favor of her irresponsible, Vegas party girl lifestyle. The sliver of remaining humanity left in Smalls awakening Molly's dormant maternal instincts might've been a good idea if it had any foundation, but nothing in IT STAINS THE SANDS RED (a cool title, at least) makes sense, and everything that happens requires Molly to be conveniently stupid in order to advance the plot. Riedlinger is OK as Smalls, but he's not giving DAY OF THE DEAD's Howard Sherman any competition when it comes to great zombie performances. It doesn't help that he exits the film with nearly 30 minutes to go as Molly, much like IT STAINS THE SANDS RED, continues on aimlessly. An interesting set-up, but this thing just goes nowhere fast and has nothing to add to an already overcrowded genre. (Unrated, 92 mins)

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