A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is the kind of horror title that immediately puts ideas, and probably not the light, fluffy kind, in your mind. But while the presumption is that things are not going to end up well for said Girl the film, much like the title, plays with convention to stunning achievement. So evocative and gloriously profound is the film that it marks the debut of writer director Ana Lily Amirpour as a filmmaker of staggering talent and one to watch.
Set in the fictional Iranian town of Bad City the film is focused less on plot and more on symbolism and a sense of emotional pull. Bad City, shot in a stark and often unbelievable black and white vibrancy, is a wasteland of a place. The streets are seemingly empty, only a handful of characters ever grace the screen, but on every corner something dark is lurking. Be it bodies piled in gutters, prostitutes seducing men to their ways or the titular Girl preying on those she deems unworthy of life. What plot there is follows Arash (Arash Marandi) who loses his car to drug dealer ‘The Pimp’ (Dominic Rains) in order to pay for his father Hossein’s (Marshall Manesh) drug habit. But along the way Arash’s fortunes change and he meets The Girl (Sheila Vand) who happens to be a vampire feeding on the inhabitants of Bad City.
As the film gently unfolds Amirpour, like her characters, seduces us in to this world. There is a stillness to the film that is powerful in its understated simplicity. Not since David Lynch’s own black and white debut Eraserhead has a film so perfectly captured a sense of foreboding, fear, loneliness, hope and, ultimately, the possibility of love. There are clear parallels to be drawn with Let The Right One In, that sense of understated innocence and fear giving way to a redemptive possibility.
While the Buffy-like idea of having The Girl turn the tables on her would-be-attackers is one thing the real power of the film comes from the Iranian setting. In Bad City the women are treated as second-rate citizens but The Girl is taking that power back. And dressed as she is in her modest headscarf only goes to both highlight this and lend a sense of subversive iconography to proceedings. Every time she swoops into action, her scarf billowing, cape-like in the wind, it conjures a smile at what Amirpour is achieving, the way in which convention and rules are being twisted is hugely satisfying. It’s like watching Batman’s cape unfurl but to much more symbolic levels of gratification.
Rains as ‘The Pimp’ is appropriately vile, strutting around as if he owns the place makes it all the more satisfying when he is actually put in his place. Marandi brings a brilliant level of almost-cool mixed with deep insecurity, at times he can have a Jimmy Dean sense of grace, the next he can be a teenager caught in the headlights. But The Girl is the breakout of the film, played with menacing beauty by Vand. Her innocent gaze is beautifully alluring and when she unleashes the beast inside it’s hard not to love her even more.
A delicate, intimate and quietly haunting film, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a stroll worth taking.