A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night prioritizes visuals over its story and characters, but executes it with such brilliance that this plodding nearly plotless film is also a unique vampire lore that sustains curiosity and leaves you with memorable imagery.
In the Iranian ghost-town Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness, the townspeople are unaware they are being stalked by a lonesome vampire.
At first glance, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night has the trademarks of a typical pretentious indie film. However, the movie’s stylistic choices and deft execution makes it a worthwhile cinematic experience.
The movie, which calls itself a western vampire, presents conventional elements in its own unique way.
It’s set in a place called Bad City, which could be Iran or Detroit but open to interpretation. The place looks deserted and has a ditch of dead bodies that people nonchalantly pass by.
It’s stalked by a female vampire who is an anti-hero and a feminist avenger (the M.R.As would be relieved to know that not all men here are portrayed evil, while women will be happy that the movie passes the Bechdel test). The girl forms a few non-predatory relationships along the way but does not lose her identity. The movie focuses on her interaction with other characters and does it in interesting ways that still contributes to the story. In one scene that flips their dynamic, she lets Arash – a handsome guy who has fallen for her – pierce her ear with a safety pin which he sterilized with his lighter so that she can wear his gift – a pair of earrings he stole from an employer.
The plot develops at a glacial space but presented beautifully. The dull monochromatic cinematography is compensated by camerawork, lighting, and effects to sustain its eerie mysterious mood, reflect the inner thoughts of its characters, and aspire for iconography. In another scene, the girl listens to Arash’s beating heart while Death by White Lies (whose lyrics fit the moment) play in the background and a spinning disco ball throws flashes of tinkling lights overhead.
The cast all did very well with what they’re given. There’s not much characterization here, but the movie imbues them with qualities that still makes their roles interesting and sympathetic. The vampire is a lonesome young woman but she’s not burdened by immortality and ennui. Arash is a handsome James Dean wannabe who owns a vintage Thunderbird and lives with his drug addict father. The supporting characters are given enough details to make them believable people stuck in a ghost town.
While all of this make for a great artful cinema with catchy tunes even in a foreign language, its easy for anyone to see A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night as nothing but one those artsy-fartsy films that critics rave about but no one can make sense of.
It’s tediously slow with characters that you can barely care about. Whatever fearful events that transpires in its mostly uneventful plot is generic vampire activity. Those with a short attention span who couldn’t care less about mood lighting would consider this overrated. The movie also tends to get lost in its own world, with scenes similar to the music montages used by American indie films in an attempt to make themselves look artistic and use it to fill the running time.
On the other hand, those who have seen Only Lovers Left Alive and sat through a David Lynch movie and unironically appreciate them, will find it rewarding. While it’s true that the movie prioritizes imagery over everything else and borrows from other genres, its consistent and brilliant execution makes it endearing, especially for those who have a wider film palette.
Like its protagonist, the movie knows exactly what it is and what it’s supposed to do. It’s a cinematic expression of loneliness, isolation and exile. The director – Ana Lily Amirpour – who is an Iranian born in England and raised in the US, may also be drawing from her experience. The movie (which blends some American pop culture references and Iranian culture) also speaks about the existence of a person who lives in an adopted homeland but still tethered to her roots – floating along in her own kind of Chador.
It will certainly garner some well deserved attention for the director. Unfortunately, its sad to know that a white male indie director will get bumped faster into big features instead. Nonetheless, Amirpour’s directorial debut is still a showcase of her talents that serve as a worthy credential to her resume.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the first Iranian Western/Vampire lore after all – a romance story set in a desolate landscape once stalked by an outlaw who changes the lives of its unfortunate inhabitants forever and rides away into the night.
My Rating: 8/10