A film released today has to have some sort of hook to entice audiences. The market place is beyond saturation with usually more than fifteen new movies hitting the big screen every week. It’s no wonder that The New York Times has stated it cannot guarantee a review of every film released. So anything that helps a movie gain an audience can only help. The main selling point for A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is its origin. The publicity is at pains to describe the film as an Iranian vampire western film. If that doesn’t pique your interest then there is something wrong with you my friend.
Set in the aptly named Bad City, a place that is seedy downtrodden and bleak. The film follows the (un-named) girl (Sheila Vand) of the title and a young man she happens to cross paths with. In most ways she is a an ordinary person living a normal life. It is only when the hunt is on does she pose a threat, prowling the dark and foreboding streets of the city, in search for her next fix of human blood. The young man, Arash (Arash Marandi), is in a bad situation. His prized possession, a vintage car has been taken from him by the local drug dealer in lieu of payment for his fathers uncontrollable drug habit. In desperation he goes to the dealer’s home to try to reason with him. As he arrives he meets the girl who has just concluded her own business with the dealer. The pair share a moment and start to get closer to each other. Is there a future for a vampire and a human that ends well?
This is a beautiful and atmospheric film. Set in a fictional Iranian city but shot in Los Angeles, the monochrome cinematography sets the tone from the very first minute. The film has a unique and haunting look which is apt for the subject matter. The use of run down, stark and squalid locations add an extra layer of tension to the proceedings. With low lighting and great use of shadows, it is reminiscent of the Universal horror films of the 1930’s and the atmospheric film noir movies.
The film doesn’t use many of the tropes associated with the vampire genre. She only comes out at night but isn’t seen sleeping during the day or at all. There is no mention of garlic, crosses or shimmering in the sunlight with perfect hair. The only nod to the past is the girl’s attire. She wears a Chador while out on the hunt. The full length garment provides a very striking image in that it makes her look as if she is floating. In one scene she travels the dark streets on a borrowed skateboard which is an arresting and memorable image.
The lead actors really make this film something special. The girl is a complex character that Sheila Vand brings to the screen. When in full hunter mode she is dangerous and sinister. The blank look and the stillness of the performance enhance the effect. At other times she has life about her. Dancing to music she appears to be just like everyone else. The male lead is a more traditional cinematic portrayal of a young Middle Eastern man. He is caught between his own ambitions and his duty to his recently widowed, junkie father. He handles most of his problems silently, only reacting in moments of very high tension.One of the main reasons the film works for audiences is the talent of its writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour. She takes an unknown cast, an intriguing premise and presents something so different that the viewer can have little in the way of preconceptions. Basically anything can happen. How many film can we say about that today?
Overall, a moody and original take on the vampire genre. Highly recommended.