A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – Movie Review by Conor MacNamara
Director/Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour.
Starring: Sheila Vand as The Girl, Arash Marandi as Arash, Marshall Manesh as Hossein, Dominic Rains as Saeed, Mozhan Marnò as Atti, Rome Shadanloo as Shaydah
The threadbare trope that is the ‘vampire-romance’ subgenre has in recent times become a hallmark of the contrived writer; usually asking the audience to fear and sympathise with a character on the grounds that pointy teeth and moody demeanour are sufficient traits for a personality. Alternatively it can simply give up on character writing altogether in favour of vicarious romance for adolescent audiences, a la the Twilight series.
A shame then that it is also present in a film of actual substance which neither needs nor utilises it, and the presence of which ultimately undermines the films finer points with gaudy gimmicks in the name of suspense and ‘horror’ – in as much as horror is a gag reflex to cheap jump scares and gloomy pretentiousness.
Writer-Director Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut is dripping with style and potential; a black-and-white blend of social-realism and excellent camera work, shot in anamorphic widescreen with a myriad of cinematic references and homages to indulge upon when not being absorbed in its excellent atmosphere (Eraserhead, Spaghetti Westerns, and an almost plagiaristic dose of Let the Right One In). A shame then that it all hinges on a creature concept that could be replaced or cut out entirely, and the result would be a better film!
Our protagonist Arash struggles with his drug addled father and the violent drug dealer he is indebted to, alongside a cast of morally ambiguous characters that populate the streets and alleys of the Iranian ghost town ‘Bad City’. It is against this backdrop that a vampire known only as ‘The Girl’ preys upon the inhabitants of the city, finally discovering a Dracula costumed Arash outside a late night costume party. Instead of feeding upon him, the Girl takes solace with the fellow lost soul, and attempts to build a relationship with him alongside her dark secret.
Interesting side stories such as our Protagonists destitute father and his mounting debts are teased at, only to be side-lined in favour of a trifling romance narrative that lacks any development or cohesive character arcs. Pregnant pauses and drawn out shots of characters staring at one another can be effective in the right context, but lacking any weight or background are only so much moody pretension. It is a little hard to buy the implication that the vampire is somehow allegorical to the budding feminist movements of Middle-Eastern society when she is robbing a child for his skateboard and camply scooting down the main street in a cape.
The films penchant for mish-mashing pop culture references with tired gimmicks ultimately undermines what skill there is on display. Between the endless references and homages, the film is too busy to pay more than a passing glance to the characters themselves. Excellent camera work and atmosphere create suspenseful scenes of ominous dread, only to be shattered by a cheap jump-scare or cheesy quip. The bubbly excitement in Amirpour’s debut may be evident, but a lack of focus and discipline is even more so.