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Wikipedia description: “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a 2014 American vampire western. Tagged as “The first Iranian vampire Western”…the film is described as being set in “the Iranian ghost-town Bad City” and depicts the doings of “a lonesome vampire”.”
High. I had been hearing about what a refreshing revelation this film was for years from both horror fans and lovers of cinema in general. Despite my interest, I somehow totally forgot to watch it since I put it on my list, probably around 2015 when it first came out.
Why I Took it off the List
I planned to have a film night with a friend, and proposed a couple of films long pending on my list I thought they might like. This was chosen, but due to an unexpected COVID-19-related development said friend could not attend (sad face).
I was already excited about the prospect of finally watching it so went ahead with the watch with my Elijah Wood-loving friend from Day 7.
Spoilers? I talk about a couple of things that may be considered spoilers in this review, but as the film has quite a sparse plot I won’t get into detail!
Review of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
I knew from the way that most people raved about this film that I was probably in for something special, and, sure enough, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is thrillingly unique despite its mix of familiar elements.
Even though I expected to be impressed, the film also surprised me. From both the aloof descriptions of the plot and the trailer, I assumed I was in for an arty, somewhat slow riff on a vampire story, but both the narrative and the power of the arresting visuals caught me off guard nonetheless.
Whatever plot there is in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is thin, to say the least, so I will largely avoid discussing it to avoid spoilers. But the sparse story beats unfold in such a hypnotic and expertly handed way that it barely matters.
And really, in this film, the most meaningful element is the wistful, melancholy tone captured by both the impactful cinematography and production design and the carefully calibrated performances.
There is not a lot of dialog in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and that is probably one of the best things about it. The largely forlorn, downtrodden characters communicate for the most part in wary glances and resigned mumbles, but what is being said about the situation by the director is never in doubt.
Sheila Vand, most recently seen in the impressive Snowpiercer TV series adaptation, has an incredibly expressive face and sells the title character as both a lonely, somewhat romantic soul and a cunning predator.
The turmoil and sadness she feels over trying to reconcile these two facets is never far from the surface, despite the fact she utters precious few words. The way her characterization subverts some of the typical vampire cliches is nothing less than a pure joy to watch.
Of the ensemble of down-on-their-luck townspeople that ‘The Girl’ begins to orbit, the biggest standout is Arash Marandi. Described as ‘The Iranian James Dean’ in press notes for the film, Marandi certainly brings a similar level of smoldering dissatisfaction, charm, and sweetness as the good-hearted boy looking for a way out of this mess of a town.
The look and feel of the film could probably be best explained as ‘Sin City meets Eraserhead’, in that ‘Bad City’ is one of those strange, almost timeless locales familiar both from a Frank Miller comic panel or any number of David Lynch films.
However, although Amirpour employs her fair share of comic-book-inspired framing and Lynchian industrial landscapes, she also captures a sense of gritty yet romantic realism snatched straight out of a French New Wave picture like Breathless (1960).
An impressive feat, and one that creates a languid, hypnotic vibe especially potent in the two standout sequences in the film, one set in The Girl’s lair after a party and the other with the two leads sharing a tender moment outside of a menacing power plant.
A Surprisingly Sweet Story
Like I mentioned above, the most surprising part of the film for me was the story that eventually unfolds. I was expecting a minimalistic indie vampire film, and to many degrees, that is what you get, but not so much an engrossing narrative.
However, in the end, A Girl Walks Alone at Night has a much similar tone to the excellent Let the Right One In than the typical stalk-and-slash vampire mystery, in that it shares a similar sense of morality and compassion for its melancholy characters.
Saying that, this film gives way even fewer clues to its blood-sucker’s origin and history than that earlier film did (which in turn failed to adapt the frankly wild and bizarre backstory of the vampire from the novel it’s based on).
If I have any reservations about the story, it’s that I maybe would have liked just a little bit more exposition on that front.
But then, maybe this is a masterstroke on Amirpour’s part, and this mysterious girl in a chador wouldn’t be nearly as effective as a screen presence if we knew everything about her.
During one key scene in the film, the amazing power-plant sequence, The Girl mournfully tells her new friend “You don’t know the terrible things I’ve done’. The boy responds with a shrug.
What matters is what you do now, I guess, which, fittingly could be a key takeaway for most of the characters stuck in Bad City.
Final Score: 9/10
Worth Checking Out?
Yes! Though unlikely to satisfy horror hounds looking for bloody vampire kills, this unique film should apply to all lovers of classic cinema and more philosophical vampire tales like Let the Right One In and The Addiction.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Written and Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
Check out my next review for my opinion on a very ‘Dark’ TV series!