Ana Lily Amirpour's 2014 A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was just about every last little thing I want out of a directorial debut: technically adept and hugely gorgeous, full of left-field concepts, and just limited enough in some really obvious ways that it was easy to hope that her next one would be even better. Well, I've finally seen the next one, The Bad Batch, which first saw the light of day at the 2016 Venice Film Festival, and it's not even better. Point in fact, it's noticeably worse, doing a great many of the same things as A Girl Walks Home only not doing them quite as well.

Still, it's hard not to be mostly charmed by the film if you're the right sort of viewer. It's basically a riff on Mad Max 2 done in the fashion of a European art film, with the most absolutely succulent cinematography courtesy of Lyle Vincent, and terrific post-apocalypse production design courtesy of Brandon Tonner-Connolly. Which should make it clearer just which kind of viewer is the right sort, and who among you will join me in holding up this film as a beloved cult object in five years or so.

The movie takes place sometime in the future, near enough to now that there's still a place called Texas and it's still part of something called the United States. We know this, because the film opens with a woman named Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) being bodily thrown out of those places; she's part of something called the "bad batch", though what exactly that means isn't ever quite specified - political undesirable, disease-career, the point is that things are shitty in what remains of the U.S., but they're still shittier outside of it. The kind of shittier involving cannibal gangs, for example, one of which captures Arlen and is able to remove part of one arm and one leg before she's able to escape. Out in the desert, she crosses paths with a mute hermit (Jim Carrey, in what is surely the most atypical if not necessarily the best performance of his career), who helps her to Comfort, a town that's at least somewhat less awful than any other place where people from the bad batch have set down roots.

That barely gets us into the film at all, though the sad truth is that by the time The Bad Batch gets to Comfort, it's used up most of its best material. This is at once an enormously busy film and one in which virtually nothing happens; Amirpour's script feels like it's been almost entirely assembled out of parentheticals, little semi-satiric musings about political power, gender roles, and storytelling itself, all tucked away in the corner of a film that involves long stretches of virtually nothing besides Arlen standing, walking, standing, and looking peeved. Honestly, that's not so very much different than A Girl Walks Home, which had a similarly glancing approach to politics and identity, and similarly worked primarily through shots of its titular figure glumly anchoring shots. And maybe that's exactly the problem: The Bad Batch is very much a less-so version of Amirpour's debut: pretty but not as pretty; blessed with an intriguing, eclectic soundtrack, though this time there's not such a strong unifying aesthetic effect.

At any rate, the plot which takes up the bulk of the film's indulgent 118 minutes finds Arlen killing a cannibal woman and then, in a fit of apparent guilt, taking the woman's daughter (Jayda Fink) to care for; this in turn puts her in the path of the Miami Man (Jason Momoa), one of the many broken figures living out in the desert, and the girl's father. Arlen also gets reluctantly sucked into the wake of the Dream (Keanu Reeves), a beaming monster who runs Comfort like a cult, mostly so that he can have the benefit of assembling a harem and making it seem like some kind of honor. There's precious little else to it; just watching weird figures navigate the even weirder environment the filmmakers have assembled for them.

This isn't a bad thing at all, though I deeply resent the film for its running time. The Bad Batch is only barely a story at all; mostly it's about exploring a hideously fallen world and the culture of the people who find themselves able to live in that world. That's pleasurable in its own right, and the way the film presents itself as something as a puzzle is enormously gratifying if world building for the sake of world building sounds like a good deal. Post-apocalyptic societies living in the desert, in ruins cobbled together from the scrap metal and junk of the old world are desperately old; I'm not honestly sure if Mad Max and Mad Max 2 were even close to being the first films to play that game, but certainly their success triggered an endless wave of close imitators, and The Bad Batch is really just one more of the same in a lot of ways (that's another reason, maybe, that it feels so limited compared to A Girl Walks Home: "cannibalism in a post-civilised desert" is old hat, and "feminist Iranian Western with vampires" remains a genre of one). Hell, it even showcases a new song by the band Federale, "All the Colours of the Dark", whose title and style directly look back to Italian genre films, which The Bad Batch easily could have been if it came out in 1984 instead of 2016.

That being said, there's a difference between doing something that's been done before and doing it well, and The Bad Batch at least has the decency to be cunning and crafty in its world building. Owing in part to the stoic silence of its characters - and thank God for that, because Waterhouse and Momoa are both pretty bad, both of them fighting losing battles with accents (hers is generic American, his is Cuban), and leaving not much left over for anything else - The Bad Batch doesn't tell us much of anything. It merely presents a world, one that has been designed to showcase a maximum of details in every little corner of every location, and expects us to be able to extrapolate and back-form whatever it was that caused those locations to exist in this particular state. For all the genre trappings that dominate it every step of the way, I wasn't kidding in the least when I called this an art film: it is suffused with slowness and ambiguity and a refusal to give us an easy path (or any path at all) into the characters' heads.

God knows if any of this works; I'm pretty much the exact target audience for this movie, and I'm sitting here hedging my response, so I assume that it doesn't. But we must all own up to our biases, and one of mine is that no matter how many post-apocalyptic wastelands they throw my way, I'm always down to explore another one. That's the single greatest strength of The Bad Batch, and it's way I'm entirely happy to have caught up with the film, even though I cannot name even one human soul that I'd be willing to recommend this to.