Film: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Primary Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh, Mozan Marnò, Dominic Rains, Milad Eghbali
US Release Date: 21 November 2014
Though A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (A Girl Walks) made waves on the festival circuit in 2014 and did play in some American cities later that year, it never secured a wide U.S. release. Luckily, the film was added to Netflix last month and is currently available for streaming.
Set in the desolate, corrupt, and rather seedy fictional Iranian town of “Bad City,” A Girl Walks opens with scenes featuring a young man named Arash (Arash Marandi). Arash is styled a bit like James Dean, drives a Ford Thunderbird (which he worked over 2,000 days to buy), doesn’t have a mother, and has a father who’s addicted to heroin. Arash’s father Hossein (Marshall Manesh) is in perpetual debt to his drug dealer Saeed (Dominic Rains), which gets both Hossein and Arash into trouble.
Atti (Mozan Marnò) works for Saeed and helps him sell his product. After taking Arash’s car to cover Hossein’s debt, Saeed says some pretty misogynistic things to Atti before forcing her into performing a sexual act. The act is cut short when Saeed sees a dark figure in the car’s rearview mirror. The figure is a vampire (played by Sheila Vand and known only as “The Girl”), and over the course of the film, she attacks a number of men who take advantage of women while also developing a sort of relationship with Arash.
Provokingly touted as “the first Iranian Vampire Western ever made,” A Girl Walks is a wonderfully stylish and exceptionally fearless film. While the film could have been imbued with a little more substance than it is, it’s also an artful and refreshingly original horror film that asks viewers to reconsider their assumptions about sexism and gender while also providing them with a memorable spectacle. The first feature film from Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour, A Girl Walks provides a unique and more than worthwhile cinematic experience. Ultimately, film is far more interested in evoking certain feelings and in playing with certain ideas than it is in providing cheap thrills, and it manages to be entertaining, unsettling, and thought-provoking all at once.
Like Bad City—which is populated by a motley assortment of lost souls—A Girl Walks brings together widespread and multifarious influences. This black and white horror film is part vampire story, part spaghetti western, part teen romance, part graphic novel, and part film noir. It’s also entirely itself. The film is eclectic and inspired. It does not draw from various genres in order to make up for any lack of personality on its own part; rather, it does so in order to pay homage to them while also subverting some of their tropes in order to create something new.
Shot in beautiful black and white by Lyle Vincent, A Girl Walks is brimming with striking and unforgettable images. Just as Bad City includes both the disgustingly rich and the tragically poor, so too is much of the film’s colorless cinematography characterized by contrast. Dark but evocative, the film’s images help to establish (and certainly enhance) its eerie but dreamy atmosphere. The film’s images also demonstrate a certain affinity for slowness and for stasis. Like The Girl—who does far more staring than speaking and who only moves quickly when she’s making a kill—the film’s visuals are not afraid to linger longer than some might say they should. In fact, by forcing viewers to look at things longer, more slowly, and differently than they usually would, the film’s more drawn-out shots and images ask those watching A Girl Walks to drink in the sights around them and to look at the world just as The Girl herself does.
This haunting and refreshingly creative film is also set apart by its exceptional soundtrack.The film features songs from a variety of genres that are performed in a number of languages, but each and every one of them contributes positively to the work as a whole. Music plays a larger-than-usual role in A Girl Walks. In fact, based how far the songs used in the film go strengthen the unique impression that the film leaves, the soundtrack in A Girl Walks is one of the best I have heard in a while. The use of a White Lies song called “Death” in one scene is particularly memorable, and it elevates what would be an emotional, well shot, but otherwise somewhat forgettable moment into the realm of the sublime.
At the heart of A Girl Walks, stands a beautiful young vampire. Cloaked in her chador, she walks the streets of Bad City and preys on men who prey on women. She may be monstrous, but she is also a hero of sorts—a terrifying vigilante who despises the misogynist and the rapist above all others. Given the film’s clear interest in gender and sex, a vampire seems the natural (and most thematically rich) choice for a monster. After all, if vampirism can be reduced to anything, it is the intersection between fear and sexual desire, and A Girl Walks isn’t at all shy about making the connection between vampires and sex explicit (fangs are phallic and sucking is sexual, but this film goes beyond that). Consequently, The Girl doesn’t just kill men who take advantage of women, she also becomes a sort of sexual predator in her own right when she does so, which adds to the subversive nature of the film.
Before there was the hideous and monstrous Dracula, there was the beautiful and monstrous Carmilla, and A Girl Walks reminds us of why the former is not nearly as threatening as the latter. The film makes it clear that one of the reasons The Girl is such an effective and frightening monster is precisely because she is not a man. Because she is a woman, she never has to struggle to be invited into the homes of her potential victims (not that she actually needs to be), and she can easily get close to them in plain sight and without saying a word. Because the men she targets are those that see women as objects instead of as people, they are more than willing to let The Girl follow them home if that means they might have a chance to force themselves on her later. Unfortunately for them, The Girl is a much more skilled predator than they are, and by the time they realize this, it is far too late.
The idea that The Girl uses the way others perceive her gender to her advantage ties into the film’s very clever title. The film’s full title—A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night—is likely to conjure a pretty specific set of images in the minds of those who encounter it (especially if they have not seen Amirpour’s film). A girl walking home alone at night is seen as a potential victim. Far too often, the assumption is that she is helpless, that she is prey, and that she is stupid for even attempting to walk at night in the first place. Amirpour’s film is clearly aware of the assumptions that people are likely to make about its title, but instead of confirming them, it turns them on their head. The film forces viewers to a take critical look at their tendency to girls as inherently vulnerable. Instead of a victim, viewers of the film are presented with someone who aggressively (and violently) defends women and who is far more dangerous than any man in the film could ever hope to be.
As much as the film succeeds in certain areas, there are a few moments in A Girl Walks in which some of its flaws are hard to ignore. As much as there is to love in this film, it does not always live up to its own potential. For instance, while A Girl Walks is clearly a film with a lot of thought behind it, it also lacks a certain degree of substance and conceptual weight. Style can (and does) go a long way, but given the film’s clear interest in various complex issues surrounding gender, sexism, and sexuality (and possible even religion), it could have and should have taken the time to put more clearly stated ideas out on the table. For the most part, Amirpour allows the film’s images to do most of it’s talking, but they don’t always say enough. The film also suffers a narrative structure that is a tad too loose and has an ending that will prove too open and ambiguous for some.
Still, the film’s flashes of brilliance are far more dazzling than its faults are disappointing. This film is pulpy for sure, but it’s also much more than that. A Girl Walks is artful, frightening, and elegant. Where the film shocks, it shocks with a purpose. This is pulp elevated, and the film’s ability to get under the skin and into the head—along with its unmistakable creativity—is worth far more than whether or not viewers are totally satisfied with its plot. This is especially true when one considers the fact that this is the first feature film from a skillful and daring woman director who is not afraid to take creative risks. Assuming that Amirpour will only grow more fearless and more confident with time, it’s incredibly exciting to think of the films she might make in the future.
Though some may be bothered by the film’s missteps while they are watching it, I do not imagine that those missteps are what they will remember of A Girl Walks after it is over. No, what they will remember of this refreshingly original and delightfully disturbing film is how it looked, how it sounded, and above all, how it made them feel. They will remember its mood, its ideas, and its creativity. And, hopefully, they won’t ever look at girls in quite the same way again.
Until Next Time
As always, thank you for reading and for indulging my love of movies. Feel free to share your thoughts on A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night by leaving a comment below or by connecting with me on twitter. I’m not sure what the next film I see will be or when I’ll have time to watch another, but I’m sure I’ll have something to say about it when I do and that it will be sometime in the next week or so.