Celluloid vampires have been around almost as long as film itself, dating as far back as 1896 with Georges Melies (Le Manoir Du Diable). Of course, F.W. Murnau’s 1913 telling of Nosferatu remains a landmark production and vampires have remained a staple of international movie production ever since. Interpretations of the vampire legend have been many and varied in both style and quality across more than 300 films, from the good (The Hunger, Let the Right One In) to the ludicrous (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) to the bleeding awful (Twilight). As the latest addition to the vampire oeuvre, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a terrifically original and beautifully executed piece of filmmaking. The first feature for Iranian-American writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night generated plenty of buzz at the Sundance Film Festival and it is easy to understand why. With a style that channels the best spaghetti westerns, a beautiful black and white aesthetic reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Sin City, a fabulous soundtrack and some great performances, this is a movie that engages you from the get-go and maintains your interest despite the fact that our protagonist says nothing for the first 40 minutes or so and very little subsequently.
Words are not needed though as the ethereal presence of the titular character, a creepy, sexy, chador-clad avenger played to perfection by Sheila Vand (Argo), is more than enough to keep you spellbound. Our unnamed girl lives in a funky basement space in the appropriately named Bad City and roams the streets at night, seemingly destined for nowhere in particular but always on the lookout for bad guys on whom she can quench her bloodlust. Having said that, anybody looking for excessive gore and geysers of blood will be disappointed. The tension is palpable throughout, but the scares here are much more subtle – one scene in which the girl accosts a young boy on the street is extremely tense as the girl makes it quite clear what will happen to him if he is not a ‘good boy’- and there are only a few particularly violent moments. In the course of her travels, she crosses paths with Arash (Arash Marandi), an ostensibly decent young man anchored to Bad City by debts owed to a grotesque misogynistic pimp by his drug addicted father. The handsome Arash – whose physicality is a cross between James Dean and Benicio Del Toro – longs for the rich girl whose gardens he tends, only to find himself drawn into the orbit of our unconventional heroine.
This is a bleak world that makes Miller’s Basin City seem like paradise – there are dead bodies piled up in the dry creek that bisects the town and the oil derricks that pump perpetually seem to be the only signs that anything happens at all – yet it is strangely beautiful in the light of the street lamps which illuminate the desolate neighbourhoods of this seemingly lawless town. Set in Iran (but shot in California) and presented in Persian language, Amirpour has found a way to make a distinctly middle-eastern film without fear of the retribution incurred by other Iranian filmmakers such as Jafar Panahi. It is the still-of-the-desert-night atmosphere – a soundscape that often comprises nothing more than the girl’s footsteps as she prowls the streets and back alleys – that is so effective in capturing the physical and moral emptiness of the town; her feeding mostly comes at the expense of the miscreants and ne’er-do-wells who are most deserving.
Familiar faces amongst the small cast (there are only eight characters) include TV regulars Mozhan Marnò (The Blacklist, House of Cards) as prostitute Atti and Marshall Manesh (How I Met Your Mother) as Arash’s junkie father. Lyle Vincent’s luscious monochrome cinematography is divine and the soundtrack, like the film itself, is a mash-up of styles, from Iranian rock to ‘80’s dance music to techno, none of which seems out of place within the context of their use. With a nod to the likes of Sergio Leone and Jim Jarmusch and a surrealist bent akin to the works of David Lynch, this is, as far as I am aware, the first ever Iranian feminist neo-noir horror romance to hit cinema screens and the film never suffers from the surfeit of styles and influences. With A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Ana Lily Amirpour has created a fabulous film that is fresh, exciting and frightfully different.