Psychotic new films by Ana Lily Amirpour and Paul Schrader

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Jason Momoa and Suki Waterhouse The Bad Batch
I am done. Yesterday marked the last day of press and industry screenings at TIFF. The last weekend consists entirely of public screenings, which was my cue to exit. TIFF coverage continues throughout the year, in a way, since we’ll be doling out the interviews I conducted as the films see release.

The Bad Batch

Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut film A Girl Walks Alone at Night was a fairly big indie hit a couple of years ago, praised for its deliberate pacing and strong sense of style, a Jarmuschian vampire film that made the best of its very limited scope and budget. Precisely none of those qualifiers apply to her second film, the unholy midnight movie cannibal Western clusterfuck The Bad Batch. Clearly inspired by the works of bugfuck iconoclasts like Jodorowsky, Peckinpah and the Mad Max series, Amirpour’s new film is frequently grating though undeniably something — it’s a movie I can’t say I liked on the whole even if each individual part is at least interesting.

In the near future, “undesirables” are lumped in together as part of The Bad Batch and released into the desert to fend for themselves. Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) has barely been out for a day when she’s captured by cannibals who lop off her arm and leg for Sunday dinner. She manages to escape their clutches and finds her way (helped in part by a mute hermit played by Jim Carrey) to Comfort, a desert community run by a rich benefactor (Keanu Reeves) who has nefarious plans in mind. Arlen eventually gets tied up with Miami Man (Jason Momoa), a cannibal who has gone looking for his missing daughter.

Ten minutes into The Bad Batch, our protagonist has lost two limbs and found herself covered head-to-toe in her own shit — and things only get weirder from there. Amirpour channels lots of classic cult films without really ever defining a style of her own, which is doubly disappointing considering how A Girl Walks Alone at Night turned out. This is mostly empty genre part-matching, dampened somewhat by Waterhouse’s banal lead performance and Momoa’s marble-mouthed Cuban accent. It’s a cobbled-together mess of ideas that’s nice to look at, but never very satisfying.

The Bad Batch does not have a release date.

Dog Eat Dog


Willem Dafoe, Nicolas Cage and Christopher Matthew Cook in Dog Eat Dog

Paul Schrader has often turned his eye towards pimps, prostitutes, gangsters and various other lowlives, but he’s always done so in a slightly elevated way. In Dog Eat Dog, Schrader matches the violent, scuzzy, haphazard nature of the script with a no-holds-barred visual style that teeters on the incoherent, post-Tarantino ’90s style. Schrader has said that his maxim making this film was “Never be boring” and I certainly can vouch for the fact that Dog Eat Dog is many things, but it’s not boring.

Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Matthew Cook star as a trio of bumbling criminals who are tasked by mobster Grecco the Greek (played by Schrader himself) to kidnap a child for ransom. Being spectacularly incompetent (and completely unhinged, in Dafoe’s case), they bungle the case and find themselves deep, deep in it.

Schrader does seem entirely aware that what he’s making is a scuzzy, borderline incoherent B-movie. The film possesses a certain demented charm, but it’s not particularly involving since the characters are drawn so thinly (not to mention that they’re complete shitheel psychopaths) and the technique is so flashy. Matthew Wilder’s script (which loosely adapts an Edward Bunker novel) is filled with Tarantino-esque dialogue (I do not think there will ever be another movie starring Nicolas Cage where the characters discuss Elliott Smith for several minutes) and the whole thing is both weirdly sedate and teeth-gnashingly gonzo. It’s not good, exactly, but if the criteria was simply to make something that isn’t boring, Schrader takes the cup. ■

Dog Eat Dog is slated for a release in November.

TIFF ends tomorrow. Check Cult MTL for reports from the past week and a half.

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