With such a circus of hype surrounding A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, it becomes increasingly difficult to give it a fair treatment. Between plumbing the depths of new and weird sounding genres and giving an intelligent and artistic response to ingrained sexism, this is a film which is supposed to do many different things. Vice Media’s involvement in the project, even financially, brings its own set of preconceptions. With their history of sponsoring many crass or exploitative but usually well produced films, it’s hard to avoid sub-consciously tarring this film with the same brush before it’s even started. It’s also tempting to write the film off as merely a more shallow and glitzy imitation of the earlier vampire classic Let The Right One In. Despite its flaws, this first feature from Ana Lily Amirpour defies being pidgeon-holed and is best viewed with as little background information as possible.
The film takes place in Bad City, a desolate place somewhere in Iran. Its inhabitants lead desperate lives, struggling from one day to the next, unaware that a young female vampire is stalking the empty streets at night. Arash is a shy and reclusive young man who cares for his ailing father Hussain, at the same time as helping him to satisfy his worsening heroin habit. After Arash’s car is taken by the local heroin dealer to cover his father’s debt, Arash goes to try and recover it but encounters a silent and eerie-looking woman who has murdered the dealer and drunk his blood. Arash seizes the opportunity to begin dealing himself and as he spends more time in the streets at night, he slowly begins to form a bond with the vampire.
The problem here certainly isn’t the filmmaking or the acting, it’s that the film is largely incoherent. None of the characters felt properly developed and the storyline trundles slowly along without ever really going anywhere. It’s a common mistake to assume that because characters have specific traits, they’re characterized automatically or imbued with depth. The vampire is often seen playing music and dancing alone in her room or skateboarding along the darkened streets, all of which is beautifully shot but doesn’t really convey anything. Her appearance is finely crafted and she is given an exquisitely unsettling portrayal by Sheila Vand, but the vampire becomes dull surprisingly quickly. The same is true for Arash and his father whose relationship just felt like a cheap way of painting Arash sympathetically. Much has been made of the film’s apparent subtexts and feminist leanings, but the film’s simplistic storyline and flat characters are crude tools; this is not a film which has much to say.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night doesn’t really hold together as a feature film, but as a jumble of well constructed and occasionally frightening scenes it still has something to offer. One standout scene is where the vampire first reveals her true nature and claims a victim. Despite having been a mainstay of horror for many decades, every element is polished here. The vampire’s cold and relentless advance, the understated cinematography which traces it and the ominous, bass-heavy electronic soundtrack all combine to make a short but powerful piece of cinema. The sudden inversion of power as the much smaller woman suddenly becomes the aggressor to a large macho bruiser adds a further edge to the moment. Even if a deeper meaning fails to shine through in this film, it remains a respectable vampire genre film.
The mile-long trail of hype preceeding this film only serves to set it up for a fall that it doesn’t entirely deserve. The characters are only marginally thinner than the plot and its politics are positively ethereal. However there are many horror gems to which this statement could also apply. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a decent feature debut but not a memorable one. Armed with a better script Ana Lily Amirpour could go on to produce something really profound, but only time will tell.