Following up one of the most buzzed-about debuts in years, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Ana Lily Amirpour has a lot to live up to with her sophomore film, The Bad Batch. Not that she cares. Frank, foul-mouthed, uncommonly inquisitive, and admirably unconcerned with what anyone thinks of her, Amirpour is a true artist for whom the only thing that matters is challenging herself and her audience with every new work.
That’s more than evident in her new post-apocalyptic road-trip movie The Bad Batch, starring Suki Waterhouse as a young woman who is set loose into a lawless desert cannibal colony that’s home to the undesirables known as “the bad batch.” There, she meets weirdos like Jason Momoa’s “Miami Man” and a very well-disguised Jim Carrey, on her way to confront Keanu Reeves’ creepy cult leader who rules over an isolated patch of paradise known as The Dream.
We met Amirpour at last year’s Fantastic Fest, where she expressed her passion for exploring new areas of her imagination before flipping the interview on its head and unleashing her curiosity on us.
The A.V. Club: The expectations for The Bad Batch were very high after your successful debut.
Ana Lily Amirpour: Whenever you anticipate something—like, “it’s my highly anticipated whatever”—you are probably going to be disappointed. I wish we could all Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind ourselves every time we went to the movies and not know anything about anyone. The history and baggage of certain actors and characters—it goes into the movie and becomes part of it. If Keanu wasn’t Keanu with all the things that make him Keanu, [it wouldn’t be the same] for him to come in and become [his Bad Batch character] The Dream. It’s kind of meta or next-level interesting for me.
AVC: Someone like Keanu or Jim Carrey, they come in with this baggage.
ALA: They’re fucking movie stars. Mega global fucking Jim Carrey.
AVC: Whether you play to that or against it, people are going to see Keanu on screen and chuckle, because they have this image of him in their heads.
ALA: I’ve thought about it before, especially with those guys. I really feel for them, because as an artist, and for me personally, my biggest fear is categorization. I hate the idea that I would become someone who says that “this is what I do and now that’s what I am.” What I really feel like is an explorer. I want to continue exploring my brain cave and see what’s there, you know? And I don’t want to just stay in one cave.
It’s easier for directors and writers to do it, because we can take control of what “it” is. If you become a star known for one thing, that becomes your thing, and you don’t want that, on some DNA level. Every artist wants to explore. It was really cool with both of those guys, to test them in new directions. They both really had fun. Breaking Lego pieces, you know?
AVC: What do you think of the idea of auteurs then?
ALA: I don’t know about that either. It’s a category. It’s all very tricky, and I’m not even sure how to understand it or process it fully, but I think we as a species categorize things to understand the universe and what’s going on. All that blue stuff [gestures upward], we’ll call it the sky, and that’s what it is. But all that blue stuff is crazy.
There’s something to me with categorization—it stops you from thinking about the thing that is actually happening. If we decide to stop calling it “sky,” you might actually think about all the stuff that’s up there. All that blue stuff, all the time! Come on, people! That’s crazy! So I guess in that way I just—I don’t know. I have not yet become too easily categorizable, but I’m not trying to avoid it either. That’s not the goal.
AVC: You’re not deliberately defying labels.
ALA: No, no. I’m trying to figure out a way to find comfort in my life as a human. I’m trying to be good at being a human being. You get chopped up. Someone breaks your heart, you lose your job, you get disappointed, someone dies in your family. Life chops you up, and you have to go on.
AVC: Which particular part of your mind were you looking to express in this film? You build such a specific world.
ALA: I can’t say I was trying to get anything across. But for myself, I was thinking about how life has chopped me up. I’ve lost parts of who I was and how I defined myself.
AVC: And that very literally happens to the lead of the movie, Arlen, played by Suki Waterhouse.
ALA: And now she has to go on. You can either give up or go on. And I said she’s going to go on, and find alternative one, and alternative two, and alternative three. And even then, you can get to something where you’re like, “This is what I want to come from here, or from there, or from The Dream or from wherever.”
AVC: The Dream reminded me of a Jim Jones kind of guy.
ALA: Did you think he was bad?
AVC: I got a cult-leader vibe off of him, and I inherently distrust that kind of person. So I thought, “This guy’s got some gross ulterior motives.”
ALA: Right. And if it was anyone but Keanu you would have gotten [that vibe] from them plus 10,000 and a million more, ’cause he’s good. But yes.
AVC: I got that vibe off of him, and that’s very patriarchal. So Arlen pushing back against him, is that a feminist thing?
ALA: I don’t know. That’s up to you. A movie’s going to have different people thinking different things. And we’re all right, every fucking last one of us. That’s the whole cunt of it all. It’s a pain in the ass for some people, but every last one of us is right. [Both laugh.]
AVC: That’s sort of the press’ job, to say, “Well I saw this, and I thought of this.”
ALA: And I think that’s great. You know, why not. It is an interesting thing because there’s a design in biology, life propagating life. And it’s not an imposed propaganda—it’s how we’re designed, to do that. Life makes more life. Pay attention. Every last one of us is a result of fucking. So, it’s something to think about.
AVC: Where did you shoot? It seems like the middle of nowhere.
ALA: It’s all in Palm Desert in California about an hour from Palm Springs, where all the people live off the grid. It’s a crazy place. People constantly keep saying [the film is] post-apocalyptic. But I went there, and that’s what’s there. I didn’t design it. That’s what it looks like.
Have you noticed what’s going on around? It’s weird. We all have our little comforts. We’re all in our little places. America’s a good country. You go three hours outside of any main city in any direction, and it’s weird as fuck. Like cracks-of-humanity shit. It’s like time traveling actually. Those guys all of a sudden don’t have internet or cellphones. You can’t text them.
AVC: The town where I went to college was in the Appalachian Mountains in eastern Ohio, and if you drive 15, 20 minutes outside of there, there’s no cell reception.
ALA: Little mining town? Like Deliverance?
AVC: More like Gummo.
ALA: Was there ever any weird shit?
AVC: I worked in a video store, and we were the last video store to rent out VHS tapes in the area. And time stood still out in the country, so people would drive to town to rent them. So I interacted with a lot of weirdos at the video store.
ALA: Was it super innocent and no crime?
AVC: Lots of drugs.
ALA: What drugs?
AVC: Meth. It used to be a mining area, but that’s all gone now.
ALA: What’s the population like?
AVC: About 10,000, but then you get these little pockets where there’s, like, 100 people.
ALA: That’s basically like a cult, too.
AVC: Yeah, totally. So I know what you’re talking about. [Both laugh.] One more question: The music in this film is so eclectic. Do you hear a song and write a scene based on that, or how do you do it?
ALA: I would say 20 pages into writing The Bad Batch, I had the music for the soundtrack you hear in the movie, times two. Double that amount. Because I’ll think of a character, and I’ll come up with a soundtrack, for when she feels like this or to make this moment like this. Music is one of my big orgasmic meters. I need it, I love it. I’m so happy when people bring it up because I love it. I need it.
AVC: The way that you combined images and sound in the film was really poetic.
ALA: It’s going to be a soundtrack!
As Ana Lily Amirpour promised, the soundtrack album for The Bad Batch will be available on June 23—the same day the film hits theaters—from Lakeshore Records and Mondo.