In the Iranian ghost town of Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness, the townspeople are unaware they are being stalked by a lonesome vampire..
Billed as “Iran’s first vampire western”, “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” was actually (and understandably) not shot in Iran but in Southern California (and at times it does look like SoCal, but this doesn’t take away from the film) and is based on writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour’s graphic novel of the same name. Dialogue is Persian (with English subtitles).
From the start, A Girl Who Walks Home Alone At Night has the look and feel of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man or a less trippy Rumblefish, with a touch of early Universal classics, probably because of Lyle Vincent’s stunning black and white Cinematography, which sets the mood perfectly. Hard working, but soon falling from grace, gardener with a rock and roll look Arash (Arash Morandi) and his heroin addict father Hossein (Marshall Morandi) live a trailer-like existence in Bad City, a seeming ghost town, struggling to get by; Hossein’s debts to local drug dealer Saeed (Dominic Rains) crippling his son’s efforts to get ahead. In this dark place walks The Girl (Sheila Vand), her first encounter with Saeed a great example of show don’t tell, with the emphasis on the visual reveal of a character without the pointless dialogue of empty air that we see too often in modern horror, both in the independent and mainstream, again testament to how beautifully made this is, a stark monochrome world. But, this is never style over substance. The first reveal of The Girl’s true nature is nicely done, subtly played and unrushed, so that when it comes, it is effective, even having a slight feel of “Dracula’s Daughter” in appearance. The pacing is of an arthouse indie, taking its time and letting you follow the characters, drawing you in, rather than forcing them down your throat at breakneck pace and the film is all the better for it.
The imagery is often dazzling, foregoing the usual genre tropes, (The Girl’s chador – worn by many Iranian women when outside the house, a full-body cloak, often accompanied by a smaller headscarf underneath – is cleverly used as a take on the classic vampire cape).
The Western themes drift in and out with nice effect, the soundtrack ranging from Persian to Morricone spaghetti. The Girl is well played, (a strangely moral, yet dangerous character), as are the rest of the limited number of characters creating a spartan setting with clever and imaginative nods to classic vampire imagery as well as fresh ones (The Girl on a skateboard is particularly nice, as is Arash at the Halloween party dressed as Dracula as his new found, darker career path finds him in company that is still socially above him). The film is not without subtle humour and the characters are fun to watch even in such a place without any seeming hope: The Girl pushing home a doped out Arash on the skateboard is good value, creating a relationship that is both touching and heartfelt.
The Girl is a beautiful creation and a unique take on a vampire: in her bedsit, punk posters on walls, disco ball on the ceiling, listening to new wave music and with a sense of a character seeking some kind of connection with a world she’s lost, The Girl is a sympathetic and engaging character (beautifully played by Sheila Vand), particularly in her interaction with Arash (Arash Morandi is also pitch perfect in his role). There is a subtle love story here, such as the ear-piercing scene, and it’s a pleasure to watch as it’s played out in a visual way, again a great case of show, don’t tell in this brooding world of isolation and loneliness; a case also highlighted by the tragedy of widower Hossain’s pitiful life and his broken relationship with his son. These are characters that seem to have tried to escape one world only to find the other no more fulfilling than the last.
Contemporary vampire stories often work nicely in Black and White (think Michael Almereyda’s Nadja or Abel Ferrera’s The Addiction; even Jean Rollin’s early work looked great, even if it abandoned standard storytelling to its detriment) and “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” is no different, the rich blacks and whites revealing the characters more than the fakery of blood soaked colour tries to do in most other horror films we’re seeing of late. The performances are all first rate (also worth a mention is a fine turn by Rome Shadanloo as Shaydah, a spoiled and bored young woman in need of any kind of escape, provided it’s with people who are of her own social standing or provide her with the drugs she needs, and Mozhan Marnò as Atti, the jaded streetwalker).
Major credit has to be given to writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour who does an outstanding job of bringing her work to the screen, allowing actors to give fine performances and creating a memorable piece of cinema. It will be interesting to see what she does next. Hopefully it will be as strong and original as this. Why can’t all films be this creative?
In an increasingly and relentlessly generic and monocultural time in cinema, “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” is the most original vampire film since “Let The Right One In”. Highly recommended.
David Paul Hellings