As striking as it is stylish, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a haunting merging of genre and a subversive spin on the vampire movie. Set in the atmospheric Iranian ghost-town Bad City, the cliché defying debut from Ana Lily Amirpour packs mighty potent power beneath its veil.
It begins focussing on Arash (Arash Marandi), the film’s wounded hero. Donning a leather jacket, jeans and white t-shirt, Marandi smoulders as an enigmatic Persian James Dean – a term coined by Amirpour herself. We meet him apparently stealing a cat, sneaking into a garden and taking a long, cinematic walk back to his flash sports car. On his return home, we meet Marshall Manesh’s Hoessein – Arash’s father and junkie – struggling with a drug induced illness. The devastating feel of loss is palpable, as he is visited by Saeed – the local pimp and drug dealer – who recoups debt in the form of Arash’s treasured automobile.
It’s not long before we’re introduced to the issues that haunt Arash, and the seedy underbelly of the forgotten town – drug abuse, prostitution, paranoia and the constant unknown threat of a lonesome vampire.
Sheila Vand is coruscating as the film’s eponymous girl – a hipster vampire. Dressed predominately in a striped Breton top, she seems effortlessly cool in her isolation, as she sits alone in her flat listening to old records on vinyl. Vand’s performance flits delicately between the naive, seemingly innocent but alluring girl, to the deeply sinister, demonic mythical being silently skulking after her victims- at one point she’s seems possessed as she scorns a young boy early on in the film. “Are you a good boy?” she enquires with her menacing opening lines.
It’s to great effect, as her threat means the boy chooses to withhold important information that would change the course of events as the drama reaches its final throws.
Much as been written about the film’s nods to spaghetti westerns. This becomes most apparent as she suddenly appears in the shadows, dominating potential victims, much like Clint Eastwood heading into a Mexican stand-off. Here, though, the cold, metallic and inanimate pistol is replaced by the warm, penetrating fangs on skin.
Amirpour’s decision to shoot the film in black and white –perhaps in a nod to the most iconic of all vampires – means it misses out on the splashes of scarlet that made Let The Right One In so chilling. It doesn’t, however, make it any less effective when she pounces on her first victim. In fact, the monotint almost adds to the terror – as if the screen has been drained of all its colour, just like the lifeless corpse deprived of strength or vitality.
It also makes it seem entirely plausible that Arash would miss the blood painted across The Girl’s face, like smeared lipstick, as they share fleeting glances on their first chance encounter. That meeting comes shortly after she claims her first victim, the preening local pimp Saeed (Dominic Rains) – who finds a timely demise after his drug fuelled, shirtless iron pumping fails to seduce The Girl.
As the drama begins to unfold, sound becomes just as key a character to the progression of the narrative as The Girl and Marandi’s brash Arash. Trains throb by, lighters boom – in one instance artfully and subtly transforming from the flickering flames cooking the addled and desperate junkie’s next hit, to the darkly crackle of needle being placed on the deep grooves of a record.
The film’s monochromatic melancholic misery is punctuated by set pieces that descend almost entirely into music video. For many of the key moments, dialogue takes a back seat as the music and body language begin to tell the story – beautifully, and sometimes painfully, expressing an absorbing sorrow.
After passing out at a fancy dress party he was invited to by the daughter of his wealthy employer, Arash finds himself bewildered and awake, dressed as Dracula on a seemingly empty and unrecognizable street.
What follows is an intense and lustful bedroom scene between The Girl and Arash, sound tracked by White Lies’ Death. They hold each other close, staring deep into each other eyes. She tilts his head back and, with a palpably painful longing, gazes at his neck, before delicately placing her head on his heart. The thud of the drums slowly begins to intertwine with the Arash’s pulsing, aching heartbeat.
It creates a glorious, stand out moment and the screen begins to practically drip with lust. The yearning between two lost souls and the craving for forbidden flesh and young blood. “This fear’s got a hold on me” White Lies sing, as you start to feel it’s never going to loosen it’s grip on either of them.
Much like The Artist’s Uggie, Masuka The Cat becomes an integral part of the story, interweaving plot and characters subtly as it journeys from owner to owner. It’s through his presence revelations are made and it’s his symbolic presence in the closing scene that helps brings a vivid sense of rawness and realism to the drama’s otherwise other-worldly subject.
Storm clouds gather as the film begins to reach it’s climax. The Girl and Arash’s Thelma and Louise moment is cut short as the tension is ramped up again. Blinded by headlights and observed by The Girl, Arash has a moment of stark realization. The anxious silence is pierced by the insertion of a cassette, as The Girl, Arash and Masuka sit together, silently acknowledging the revelations that will change their relationship forever.
“If a storm came” Arash asks of The Girl in a tender moment over a shared hamburger “a big storm from behind the mountains. Would it make a difference?” In A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Ana Lily Amirpour does a exhilarating job of creating a storm that the film always manages to ride and stay one step ahead of.