A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
The Good, The Bad And The Bitey
Iranian- American director Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut freshens up vampires.
Release Date: 22 May 15 | 101 minutes Director: Ana Lily Amirpour Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh, Mozhan Marnò, Dominic Rains, Rome Shadanloo
Somewhere in Iran, in the dead of night, a vampire skateboards down the street, her chador – a variation of the hijab – billowing behind her like a superhero’s cape. In the previous scene she threatened to eat the eyes out of a child’s skull; a few scenes later The Girl is sharing an erotically charged scene with a young man dressed up as Dracula, set to “Death” by indie- rockers White Lies.
It’s safe to say that not since 2008’ s Let The Right One In has there been a fresher take on the vampire genre than A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night; or, at the very least, that it may very well be the best black- andwhite Iranian vampire spaghettiWestern noir that you’ll see this year.
The feature film debut of writer and director Ana Lily Amirpour, it takes place in the fictional Bad City, a town that has as much to do with its setting of Iran ( and its language) as A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night has to do with being a girl. Instead, it’s a piece of urban fantasy, with Amirpour ( who was raised in America) imagining her parents’ homeland as a bleak, desolate hive of sex, drugs and pulp – Frank Miller’s Sin City on a hard, hazy hangover. ( Unsurprisingly, given Iran’s strict government regime, the film was shot in California.)
One of the most notable residents of Bad City is Sheila Vand’s The Girl, a young vampire who divides her time between stalking the streets, preying ( mostly) on despicable men, and sitting at home, sullenly listening to hip music on vinyl. Her age is never revealed, but rest assured: she was probably into sucking blood before it was cool. During her murderous travels, she crosses paths with the likes of drug- dealing pimp Saeed ( Dominic Rains), his miserable prostitute Atti ( Mozhan Marno), a customer of his, the bereaved Hossein ( Marshall Manesh) and his handsome, long- suffering son Arash ( Arash Marandi), whose father’s drug debts land him in a spot of bother. And it’s the latter that The Girl strikes up an uneasy, tentative romance with.
The story itself is quiet and sparse, its narrative powered by mood more than anything else, meaning that its economic use of shocks – especially a gory one involving a sucked finger – hits all the harder, but also that it suffers a sluggish lack of drive in its final act, as The Girl and Arash’s relationship concludes with more of a whimper, than a bang. Not that that taints the story overall, which is magnificently told.
It’s clear that A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is informed by a genuine love for film, its patchwork of influences ranging from the minimalist indie tone of Jim Jarmusch to the gothic atmosphere of Nosferatu and Dracula, and the dramatic pomp of Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy. Indeed, its entire opening – from the Ennio Morricone- style twang of the music to the familiar typography of its credits – is a huge spaghetti Western homage.
And yet, while A Girl… is reassuringly familiar, it is not so enamoured by its inspirations as to fail to offer something new. Amirpour’s direction, for a start, is extraordinarily confident, with near- on every shot crafted with imagination, care and purpose. In particular, scenes involving The Girl following someone – whether she looms over a shoulder or lingers behind in profile – are as moody and menacing as they are visually iconic, with more than a few shots that wouldn’t look out of place in a photography exhibition.
The Girl herself has a lot to do with this. Sheila Vand plays the vampire with an effectively delicate sense of detachment, coldly regarding humanity with equal measures of bewilderment and disgust, as if she’s staring at an ant
Not since 2008’ s Let The Right One In has there been a fresher take on the vampire genre
farm. A wonderful example is the scene in which The Girl finds herself invited into the home of the creepy, if charismatic, drug dealer Saeed, a striking creation played with devilish delight by Rains. It’s an encounter fraught with dark humour, as Saeed attempts to seduce her with enthusiastic dancing, only for the vampire to look silently on, with veiled contempt. The hunter and the prey – and Saeed is very much mistaken as to which one he is.
But such snarl would tire if it wasn’t tempered by something deeper and human, and Vand balances the two well, with a performance that hints at a long, haunted history of pain and guilt beneath her character’s cold, harsh veneer; a depth that makes sure the story’s substance isn’t totally overshadowed by its style.
One of the more obvious assumptions to make about A Girl
Walks Home Alone At Night is that it’s a feminist twist on the genre – an anti- Twilight. Its title, for one, evokes the typical idea of the woman as a victim, when the reality is quite different. For another, The Girl’s victims – in another role reversal – are mostly misogynist males. Although, given the script’s subtle nature ( and the fact that she also kills a random homeless guy), that’s left open to interpretation.
What’s not, however, is that the film is about feeling trapped by your circumstances – whether that means an overpowering thirst for blood or having to sell your body for money – and the loneliness that follows. And it’s in that loneliness that The Girl and Arash strike up a bond, one that is mostly unspoken. On paper, of course, such a lack of conversation should kill their romance stone dead, but Amirpour’s direction speaks volumes. Their scenes together are few, but they matter. The erotically charged sequence mentioned earlier, for instance, is electrifying in its execution; as the two first- time lovers move toward each other with the tense, glacial pace of a horror, all perfectly pitched to its soundtrack, all so intimate you can practically feel the breath on your neck. It says more than words ever could. For that alone, Ana Lily Amirpour has become one of cinema’s most exciting prospects.
Marjorie’s barbershop offered a deeply personal service.