Three years ago, Ana Lily Amirpour burst onto the movie scene with her exceptional film debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and Iranian vampire Western that captivated audiences and critics alike. With a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 81 score on MetaCritic, the film was an outstanding feature film for the first-time director. It would be an understatement to say that expectations have been high for her sophomore feature, the cannibal love story The Bad Batch, which opens in limited release today. Ever since the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, reviews have been decidedly mixed. I had the chance to speak with Amirpour before a special pig roast screening of the film about the polarizing reception to the film.
Reactions to The Bad Batch are on opposite ends of the spectrum. People either love the film or hate it. Negative reviews have mentioned the film’s slow pace (“The story runs out of steam – with a full ninety minutes still to go”), thinly-written script (“It’s one of those movies that plays like they simply filmed the director’s notebooks rather than a script.”) and overall pretentiousness (“Pretty but also vacuous and self-indulgent.”). That only makes up about half of the reviews though. The positives take a completely different perspective, commending The Bad Batch for its humor (“The Bad Batch is challenging, unnerving, and even hilarious in whip-smart bursts.”), its riskiness (“Feels like an arthouse movie from an earlier time, more of a dare than a comfort, more active than passive.”) and its beauty (“Amirpour’s latest film is a beautiful and shambling Western”).
I have a fascination with hearing from directors about negative reactions to their films (see: the Adam Wingard/Simon Barrett commentary track on the Blair Witch Blu-Ray), so I had to bring this up with Amirpour. No filmmaker has a perfect track record, and she knows this well. Upon discussing the positive reception of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Amirpour mentioned that she came across several viewers who really didn’t like it. This is to be expected in any art medium, but it can still be difficult to hear sometimes. Luckily, Amirpour received some great advice from one of the horror genre’s most famous filmmakers. “Guillermo del Toro told me something in Venice. He’s kind of like an Obi-Wan to me….he said ‘Your film will outlive the critics. Always remember that.’ It’s like this weird little moment of time where everyone gives their opinions on a movie but then 20 years go by and it’s way better.”
It takes a thick skin to be able to put art out into the world, especially in the days of social media where insults and threats are doled out left and right every second. Amirpour takes it all with a grain of salt though. “You should have a strong reaction [to the film],” she says. “If you’re going to go through the experience then you should have that.” Be it positive or negative, people are having a strong reaction to the film. My reaction to the film after seeing it at Fantastic Fest back in September was on the negative side, but I did appreciate it more on a second viewing. The film is a difficult watch in that it is very slow and asks a lot from the audience, which I pointed out to Amirpour. “I feel that you definitely have to use your brain muscles and a lot of people, myself included, often watch films to use less muscles. You want to escape, but I don’t allow that in my film.”
Suddenly remembering that I write for a horror website, I brought up the brutality present in the first 20 minutes of the film, which sees our heroine Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) strapped down on the ground and getting her arm and leg sawed off. It’s an intense way of opening a film, but it wouldn’t work if you didn’t care about Arlen. “Look at your past week of movie-watching and TV-watching,” Amirpour said. “How many people died? What was the body count? How many of them did you really clock? Probably none…I didn’t want you to be able to escape [the violence] in my film.”
Reiterating that many of the horror movies I hold near and dear to my heart are ones in which I cared deeply about the characters and felt for them when they died, I had to bring up Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character in I Know What You Did Last Summer, one of my favorite slashers from the ’90s. Amirpour shared my affection, exclaiming “Oh my God I just recently re-watched that movie and it’s so fucking good! Her death is just heartbreaking and so is her death in Scream 2! You feel it when she dies….it’s genius.”*
*This paragraph really has nothing to do with the rest of the interview. I just had to include it because I love that she loves I Know What You Did Last Summer, a film that gets a lot of hate from people who didn’t grow up in the ’90s.
Ultimately, the reception to The Bad Batch goes to show that you’ll just have to watch the film for yourself to see which side of the spectrum you land on. That’s the only way to truly have an opinion, after all.