A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night Movie Review
Written by Angry Scholar
Released by Kino Lorber
Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
2014, 99 minutes, Not Rated
VOD released on March 20th, 2015 | Blu-ray and DVD released on April 21st, 2015
Sheila Vand as the Girl
Arash Marandi as Arash
Marshall Manesh as Hossein
Mozhan Marnò as Atti
Dominic Rains as Saeed
As a reviewer (a term I use because "critic" sounds gross), you inevitably reach a point of over-saturation. Watching films is supposed to be fun, but with so much crap to wade through and so many reviews to write, it can (and does) start to feel like thankless, unending work. But an unexpected upshot is that when you've reached this point, you tend to appreciate cinematic beauty even more for its rarity. When you're fortunate enough to see a film that not only stands out for its cinematic competence and its narrative depth, but that actually makes you wish you were a character in its world, that's when all those crap films are worth it.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a film set in Iran about a man named Arash and a beautiful, nameless vampire called simply "the Girl" in the credits. It takes place in "Bad City," a town that lives up to its name. It's a wasteland. Bodies lie piled in a dry riverbed. Lives are destroyed by prostitution and drugs. Arash lives here with his heroin-addicted father, scraping by as a gardener on the estate of a rich family. He's worked for years to buy a beautiful old hot rod, but when his father's dealer Saeed comes to collect and there's no cash, Saeed takes Arash' car instead. Arash follows the dealer into the alley outside, but Saeed drives off before Arash can stop him. In frustration Arash punches the brick wall, breaking his hand.
This is a city of implied horrors—though we only catch a glimpse of them—and it doesn't seem like the setting for a beautiful story. But then the Girl appears, an Audrey Hepburn-like vampire who thins the already sparse population of Bad City beginning with Saeed (and the scene where she kills him is more triumphantly feminist than anything I've seen in ages—try to watch it without wanting to cheer). Arash goes to confront Saeed and get his car back, only to find him already dead. He does what any sensible person in a terrible place would do at this point: he not only takes back his car but also lifts Saeed's cash and his stash of drugs, and takes his place as the local dealer.
Later, Arash is selling ecstasy at a costume party. He's dressed like Dracula, and when his former employer's sexy daughter forces him to sample his own wares, Arash winds up wandering the streets of Bad City in a darkly romantic (and comic) sequence that ends with him encountering the Girl, who also wears a cape and is, of course, actually a vampire. The addled Arash catches the Girl's interest, and she pushes him back to her apartment on a skateboard, because of course she does. The whole film is like this, one bizarre but perfect series of events and set pieces after another. We get to know Arash's father Hossein, a pathetic, broken-down junkie, and the sad prostitute Atti, formerly employed by Saeed, who is perhaps the most sympathetic of a cast of very sympathetic characters. They're sympathetic because their problems are much bigger than a lone vampire, who is herself just a troubled soul (albeit with great taste in music).
As Arash struggles with his father's addiction and the Girl befriends Atti the prostitute, things start to escalate, and something happens that threatens the budding romance between Arash and the Girl. It's difficult to say more than this without spoiling it, but it ends on a very satisfying note.
The acting is stellar, with Sheila Vand as the Girl and Arash Marandi as Arash both delivering exceptional performances. In fact, the entire cast does extremely well, striking that perfect balance of pathetic desire and noble perseverance that seems to be a hallmark of independent films and their explorations of human nature. The narrative is an unrequited-monstrous-love sort of affair, reminiscent both of the recent (and great) Spring and the now-classic Let the Right One In; while it doesn't really tread any new ground, it's executed with a light touch and a dark humor that makes it feel fresh again. Music figures prominently in the plot—the Girl is a bit of an audiophile—and the soundtrack is fantastic, ranging from English-language prog-rock to what I assume is traditional Iranian music, to contemporary Farsi alternative. And the feminist subtext is exquisite, with a world of unspoken commentary on gender relations that bubbles throughout the film without quite breaking the surface.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night has some minor issues with pacing—it's quite slow—and some of its deliberately retro effects (slow motion, time-lapse) at times feel somewhat extraneous. (I actually wish it had been filmed in color, though I'm sure there are many who will disagree.) And in no appreciable sense is this a horror movie, except that there's a vampire. But there's really no way to avoid the conclusion that this is an excellent film.