In an instance of the dsytopia which looks a lot like now – following the tradition of Punishment Park, Escape From New York or Mad Max – a desert zone is fenced off and posted as no longer a part of the United States of America, so laws don’t apply and no one consigned there has any rights. The inhabitants are the ‘bad batch’, with identifying tattoos behind their ears, and have been kicked out of the US as undesirables, even if a few of them look pretty desirable – though the two shanty town communities desire hot women in different ways, as food and as brood mare/bodyguards. This is the territory of the absurdist apocalypse, somewhere between El Topo, The Bed-Sitting Room, A Boy and His Dog and The Last Battle, with spectacular desert scenery, muttering lunatic characters, and repurposed toxic trash as set decoration. The soundtrack is predominantly cool and now, but the media – a giant glowing boombox mobile disco, lots of cassettes and walkmans – is retro, and we get a burst of ‘Karma Chameleon’ over one of the major horrors, just for the irony lulz.
Force-tattooed and shoved through the fence by unseen state goons, Arlen (Hammersmith-born supermodel Suki Waterhouse, from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) tramps through the desert until she’s netted by cannibal bodybuilders and – in an admittedly shocking bit – has two of her limbs severed for the cookpot (the regulation ‘cost you an arm and a leg’ joke comes later). Resourcefully, she smears herself with her own shit to prompt her fastidious cook (Joni Podesta) to unchain her for washing, then bludgeons the woman and escapes by crawling and lying on a skateboard she propels with her remaining limbs. A wilderness wandering goon (an unrecognisable Jim Carrey) picks her up and trundles her to the less-ruthless community of Comfort in a shopping cart and – five months later – she has a prosthetic leg, a gun and an urge for revenge which burns out as the narrative drive ebbs and writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour’s second feature turns in on itself in a way consistent with the tactics of her knockout debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night but still more befuddling than engaging.
Arlen guns down a relatively innocent cannibal (Yolonda Ross) and sort of adopts her cute daughter Miel (Jayda Fink) but is distracted by an acid tab when the little girl walks off clutching her rabbit to join the cult harem of a white-clad, porn-stached guru called the Dream (Keanu Reeves). When she comes down, Arlen finds Miel’s devoted Dad Miami Man (Jason Momoa) has captured her and is intent on forcing her to help get his kid back – though he’s a cold killer of women pleading for mercy, MM has a sensitive side expressed through his artwork (in a sketch book). MM is BB because – topically – he’s an illegal immigrant from Cuba, but Arlen never says why someone as white, blonde, pretty and Southern as she is has been lumped in with the crazies (Riovanni Ribisi as ‘the Screamer’ is typical), marginals and other ethnicities. She does say she thinks Cuba is near Hawaii, but that level of geographic ignorance would probably win her points in Trump’s America. The story motor is, as in Mad Max Fury Road, an amputee woman and a tough guy out to liberate a prize specimen from a mad ruler’s harem, but this happens in the most oblique, often undramatic way imaginable.
Having opened with gore, the film doesn’t close with carnage … though there is a supreme sacrifice sure to upset folks happy to sit through women being butchered and eaten (which is the point) and a profoundly unconvincing post-nuclear family arrangement to caricature a Hollywood ending.