In her breakthrough debut feature A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour drops us into the sparse and spooky land of Bad City, in which a vampiric ‘girl’ stalks its inhabitants. In this fictional Iranian industrial town we are introduced to a number of different characters, a James Dean wannabe named Arash (Arash Marandi) and his junkie father (Marshall Manesh) are hounded by neighbourhood dealer/pimp Saeed (Dominic Rains), who also finds time to rough up the local prostitute, Atti (Mozhan Marno), when he’s not getting high on his own supply. Then there’s the Girl, played by Sheila Vand, who walks the streets at night in a chador, a formidable presence who returns home to her apartment and dances to pop music under her disco ball upon the conclusion of her journeys.
Amirpour has obvious influences here, from David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino, to westerns including The Good the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West, and through the combination of these influences she creates something wholly original: the world’s first Iranian vampire spaghetti western. Shot in beautiful black and white, the film makes extensive use of long takes which focus on the city, its oil rigs and riverbeds filled with dumped bodies, and on its inhabitants, Arash, stoned and dressed like Dracula staring at a street light, the Girl, skating down the street with her chador fluttering behind her. As the film features little dialogue, and lacks action and obvious plot it may seem like there is nothing to hang on to here, however Amirpour is totally in command of this production, something especially apparent in her use of music as a means to tell you more about the characters and express emotion. This is crucial for Amirpour; she has stated previously that she prepared the music alongside the script and that every single person involved with the film had the soundtrack well before shooting – it clearly shows.
Much has been said about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night as a feminist piece of cinema and although it does have a conventional love story at its core, it definitely features feminist undertones, with the film’s other meaningful relationship shared between the titular Girl and Atti, the local prostitute. The title, too, is important, as traditionally a girl would be discouraged from walking home alone at night however we see our lead doing so with confidence, even skating along the streets in the process. This act, and the film as a whole, serves as an act of defiance. As the film cuts between shots of the residents of Bad City – the drug dealers, the pimps and the addicts – going about their business and the girl silently stalking them, you would generally expect to be worried for the girl’s safety. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night turns traditional horror film tropes on their head; not all predators are men and their victims women, a man can be threatened by a pretty young woman who follows him in the dark. The girl could be considered a feminist anti-hero, as throughout the film she is very protective of Atti and is more than willing to exsanguinate the men who do her wrong. Here, by making the female character the most dangerous resident of Bad City, Amirpour makes the male characters feel the terror that many women feel walking alone at night.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night also offers an interesting take on the human-vampire love story that has been told many times before. Arash and the girl meet, share an embrace and a hamburger. Very little is made of the fact that she is vampire, in fact the word is never even said out loud. This relationship shows us another side of the girl, a more vulnerable, human one, in which she longs for another. In this, the two leads Vand and Marandi play their parts well, considering the minimal use of dialogue their expressions say a lot – Arash is emotive, while the Girl is mysterious and menacing.
By combining tropes of horror, film noir, and westerns, Amirpour has given us something completely original in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. In the girl she has created an interesting, complex and important female character, an archetype that needs to be represented in film more often. If this is what Amirpour is capable of doing with her first feature, I am incredibly excited to see what she does next.
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