We would all agree that the Iranian feminist vampire film is a grossly under-represented genre in world cinema. Thankfully though, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, from Iranian born, American-based first-time director Ana Lily Amirpour, is here to fill the void. And it does so in spectacular fashion. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night initially focuses on a young man named Arash, who is struggling to deal with his father’s crippling heroin addition. Before too long, attention shifts to ‘The Girl’, a young female vampire who crosses paths with Arash. In genre terms, the film is a distinctive shot against tired horror tropes, but it is also a coolly drawn and deft romance. This aspect of the film gives it a surprising, but wholly welcome, shot of joy, which prevents the film from ever becoming too dark, slow or ponderous.
For a time, there is a suggestion that this will be a brooding, slow, horror-influenced drama, rather than a fully fledged example of the genre. Then the Girl makes her arrives on the scene, looming ominously and violently aiding women in need. The film maintains the slow build, content to construct atmosphere until, in a burst of speed, the attack takes place lightning fast and very bloody. The result of this slow/fast dynamic is that from this point on, there is a tension to the film that was not there previously. As the vampire lectures a young child, the audience cannot help but feel that another devastating burst of deadly speed is imminent as the tension builds and builds.
The film is at once distinctly set in Iran, but also in a more universal conceptual setting of ‘the night’. The streets are sparse, set up by lingering shots of nearby industry that suggest an abandoned otherworldliness. In contrast though, there is also normality to the night time goings on here that suggests certain universality; dark streets that are really no different to those of Canberra or Glasgow or wherever else you wish to imagine.
The character of The Girl, brought to life by Sheila Vand, is one that it is hard not to warm to. She is a strong young woman, rocking a skateboard and funky make-up. But most importantly, she is a lone woman. She hunts alone, and whilst plenty of the film focuses on the tender relationship that she builds up with Arash, there is no doubt that the character is both content and thriving out there in the big bad world all by herself. She is also clearly the smartest character in the film. She stalks her prey with a combination of cunning and animalistic raw power. Her non-traditional vampire appearance, not striking fear into the hearts of men and children, is counteracted by this rawness, and her mastery of the simple powers she possesses.
Artistically, Amirpour does not allow the classical black and white cinematography to deliver a staid visual experience. Instead, cues are taken from genre cinema, in particular the western. The homage to that most American of genres is clear from the start, with iconography, shot construction and even the font used in the credits recalling the classic details of those films. In fact the first-time director combines a number of different visual approaches into something that is pretty unique.
A Girl Walks Home at Night shows a side of Iran that we are not used to and it’s a genuinely frightening experience. Classic black and white, the western, lush 70s style filmmaking and a focus on shooting backgrounds rather than people all coalesce into one very pretty film.
[rating=4] and a half
by special guest reviewer
Tim @beermovie Hoar