A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) / Horror-Romance
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would be R for drug content, sexual content, brief nudity, some frightening images, and language
Running Time: 99 min.
Cast: Arash Marandi, Sheila Vand, Marshall Manesh, Mozhan Marno, Dominic Rains, Rome Shadanloo, Milad Eghblai, Reza Sixo Safai
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Screenplay: Ana Lily Amirpour
Review published December 3, 2014
Debut British-born, Los Angeles-based, Iranian-American filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour writes and directs this unique hybrid film that feels like a mash-up of several ultra-cool art-house subgenres, including vampire flicks, French New Wave, 80s subculture rom-coms, James Dean dramas, Lynchian film noir, spaghetti westerns, and the offbeat semi-comic styles of Jim Jarmusch (who coincidentally also filmed a soundtrack-heavy vampire movie this year in Only Lovers Left Alive). Shot in crisp and sumptuous black-and-white by Lyle Vincent (Devoured, Cooties), the sound design and use of Middle Eastern/Western soundtrack are equal standouts, mesmerizing the audience with its marriage of sight and sound to form an overall mood of melancholy and despair in this bleak town.
Shot mostly in Central California (Taft and Bakersfield's pumpjacks perpetually sucking crude oil out of the earth in appropriately vampiric fashion), the film is fictionally set in an industrial town/wasteland known as Bad City, possibly (but not necessarily) in Iran. Most of the exploits follow the male lead, Arash (Marandi, Kunduz), a young man with a hot sports car who is beleaguered from having to constantly cater to his vice-addled father Hossein (Manesh, Year One), whose nasty habits are increasingly causing them trouble from the local drug dealer and pimp, Saeed (Rains, Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Saeed takes the car as a form of "what's owed him", but encounters his own form of retribution when he makes the mistake of taking home a terse, doe-eyed girl (Vand, Argo) he passes in the streets, who is more than what she appears. She's a predator of sorts herself, or perhaps an instrument of vengeance when looked at it another way, but either way she's a dreamer who idolizes pop stars and gets involved in an unlikely romantic entanglement of sorts with Arash, who doesn't suspect she's more than a sweet, innocent girl.
Though Amirpour is drawing from many influences in her style, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night still emerges as a film not quite like any other you may have seen. Obviously, its a Farsi-language film, to which most viewers in the United States will be introduced to for the first time for an entire running length. Even if you are familiar with Persian films, then there is sexuality and nudity within the movie, which sets it further apart. But, really, it is the mélange of era that makes it feel unique, set in a city that has no specific time period, dabbling in each era since the 1950s to create this eerie but alluring hybrid.
Though not everyone in the film is a great thespian, A Girl Walks is cast very well, with Vand and Marandi appealing throughout, especially in their subtle and sexy scenes together. Vand's Anne Hathaway-like appearance keeps her looking like the 'good girl' who unfortunately does some very horrific things, though she seems to be able to pick and choose her victims, preferring to filter out the users and abusers of society. Her chador is not only traditional to wear in public on the streets of her Muslim community, but also ghost-like, which adds to the eerie look of her as the stalks her prey, as the black of the fabric masks her in the dead of night. But she's not always scary, as we see her in her own time and retro-tinged space, perhaps evoking that she has been stuck in a mind and body state of vampire teenager since the 1980s, as a young woman with her own hopes and dreams of life and love, and even takes the time to have a little bit of fun out there riding a skateboard around town in a visual element that you can't help but smile at.
For all of the praise I can bestow upon the look, sound, style, and tone, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night does suffer from occasional prolonged lags, as if there's just not quite enough story elements to cover a full-length movie without letting scenes play out well past their narrative necessity. On the plus side, these scenes also add to the odd tone of the film, and, to some degree, the romanticism, which may help people be more reflective of what's going on especially as we hear the well-selected musical pieces play out over the images. One could surmise heightened emotional impact to certain scenes when played out by fans over repeat viewings. It's too cool in its style to resist with complaint for more substance, so why try? Like much art, the roughness we find around the edges just makes the technique more interesting to admire -- an instant cult classic.
-- The film has been released concurrently with a comic book prequel, "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: Death is the Answer", also written by Amirpour, that delves more deeply into the back story of the characters.
©2014 Vince Leo