REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER
For Digital First Media
By now, you might assume that every possible variation and permutation of the vampire genre has already been exhausted. Don’t be so sure.
When was the last time that you saw a black and white, feminist, Iranian, spaghetti Western version of a vampire film? How about never!
“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is all that and much, much more. Did I neglect to mention that this is a romance in which the distaff vampire protagonist travels via a skateboard, which she purloined from a young boy?
You might be tempted to dismiss “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” as some sort of silly gimmick. However, besides the sheer novelty of the film, it is a brilliantly original work of art.
The protagonist is a nameless young woman (Sheila Vand), who is referred to in the credits only as “The Girl.” With a poster of Madonna in the background, she is dancing by herself in a provocative fashion. When The Girl finishes, she puts on lipstick and eye shadow, creating the alluring image of a seductress.
We have formed a perception of the woman. Certainly, she must be living in a modern, secular Society somewhere. Then, at one fell swoop, The Girl dispels our perception of her and the film’s setting. She dons a hijab. We subsequently hear characters speaking in Farsi. The film is set in Bad City, a fictional Iranian town.
Arash (German-Iranian actor, Arash Marandi, credited in the press notes as the Iranian James Dean) is a handsome, young man, who wears blue jeans and a T-shirt. He drives a vintage Thunderbird, which he painstakingly saved up to purchase. Arash aspires to escape Bad City.
Alas, Arash does not want to abandon his drug-addicted junkie father, Hossein (Marshall Manesh). Hossein owes a huge debt to Sayeed (Dominic Rains), a drug-dealing pimp. The latter sports an extensive array of tattoos and a distinctive punk hairstyle. When Hossein can’t pay off his debt, Sayeed appropriates Arash’s beloved car.
The Girl turns out to be a vampire on a mission. She is out to avenge the misdeeds of men in her misogynistic, patriarchal Society. First up is Sayeed, who mistakes The Girl for a vulnerable potential victim of his lechery. He is in for a big surprise.
The film’s rudimentary plot is subordinated to a style that is nothing short of extraordinary. Courtesy of the expertly-lit widescreen cinematography of Lyle Vincent and production design of Sergio De LaVega, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is remarkably atmospheric. It has a decidedly otherworldly vibe, fundamentally different from any other film you’ve ever seen. It combines aspects of traditional Muslim culture with elements of modern Western industrial Society.
You may be wondering how “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” could have been made in Iran. The theocracy has not heretofore noted for its tolerance of anything that deviates from a strict interpretation of Islam. Of course, that does not include films that sex, drugs, vampires, or evidence of decadent Western culture.
“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” was actually shot in Taft, a small town in the foothills of California’s Kern County. More than half of its 10,000 residents work for Chevron Oil, which has a plant there. It is one of the few remaining towns in the United States which exist exclusively because of nearby oil reserves. The town’s smoke-belching industrial plant and its desolate aura are prominently featured in the film.
Further contributing to the film’s edginess is a dope sound track. It is an amalgam of ’80s era New Wave, Arab rock, and contemporary electro-pop. This mash up of musical styles reflects the film’s theme of culture clash.
“A Girl Walks Home at Night” derives from a short of the same name made by screenwriter/director, Ana Lily Amirpour. It its abbreviated form, it won the Best Short Film at the California-based Noor Iranian Film Festival. The festival is geared to shed “noor,” or light, on Iranian culture. In its expanded form as a feature, it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival. It generated considerable buzz and was purchased for theatrical distribution by Kino Lorber.
Amirpour turns out to be an intriguing character in her own right. She was born in London to Iranian parents. When she was young, her family moved to Miami, Florida. Another move took them to Bakersfield, California, where Amirpour attended high school. Amirpour has been making off-beat shorts since she was a 12-year old pre-adolescent. Her initial venture was a slumber party slasher film, which she recorded on her father’s Sony Sport Hi-8 camera.
Initially, a biology major, Amirpour dropped out of college to become a snowboarder. Parenthetically, sharp-eyed viewers may notice Amirpour applying her skateboarding skills, as she doubles for the protagonist in this film’s long shots. She was initially planning to make standard issue Hollywood films. However, while in Germany, Amirpour experienced an epiphany and took an alternate path that fit her personal philosophy. As she has explained, “I make films to make friends. It’s just me, lonely, trying to figure out how to be a human being.”
“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is a stunning debut by a talented and fascinating filmmaker. Her fledgling career warrants careful monitoring. In the interim, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” should be seen by every cineaste, even those who ordinarily eschew vampire films.
***1/2 107 minutes No MPAA rating (In Farsi with English subtitles)
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.