SPOILER: I was a bit disappointed to learn after seeing A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night that it was not an actual Iranian film. Turns out it is entirely American funded and made in California, it's just that it has an Iranian director, crew and cast, while it is set entirely in the Farsi language. When I say I was disappointed it was only that I truly wanted to believe that a film with such frank scenes of sexuality was being made in Iran. There has been something of a surge in Iranian films in recent years, most prominently in the case of the excellent drama A Separation (2011) and I thought it could be possible that this was another in this cycle. Alas, but no. Still, that doesn't deter from the fact that this is a pretty singular bit of work. I suppose the very fact that it is an Iranian film made entirely with American money is in itself pretty interesting.
Like another of 2014's best horror films Honeymoon, this one is also directed by a woman. Ana Lily Amirpour is of Iranian descent but born in the UK and brought up in America. I guess because of her heritage coupled with the tensions between America and Iran, many meanings seem to have been interpreted in this film. I think the truth is that this is a film with some minor political undercurrents but which takes its influences far more from cinema itself. Set in a bleak dusty place called Bad City, a settlement full of drug addicts, vice and despair, it follows a small group of characters one of which is a female vampire who roams the streets at night preying on the worst in her society.
It wouldn't be unfair to say that this is an exercise primarily on style over substance. This doesn't bother me personally, as I enjoy films that embrace cinematic style. It's typified by great black and white cinematography with lovely widescreen framing. It is also a mash-up of film genres with a hero and car which evokes 50's teenage rebel films, Ennio Morricone inspired music that references spaghetti westerns, moments that recall the odd tone of David Lynch movies, the visual look of Francis Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish (1983) and the revisionist approach to the vampire film typified by Let the Right One In (2008). When you combine all of these disparate elements together in an American film shot entirely in Iranian, the result is a very odd film indeed. I guess you could call this a feminist vampire film, in that she only attacks predatory and immoral males, while she is quite far removed visually from the slinky female bloodsuckers from many a European vampire flick (although there certainly isn't anything wrong with them!). It also plays on the idea that the Hijab veil looks similar to the garb of those traditional vampires. It is also distinctive for having bizarre details such as a prominent cat, a skateboarding vampire and a soundtrack that mixes Persian music with new wave influenced western pop. The latter being a particular favourite of our vampire lady.
My feeling on the film overall is a little mixed. I really appreciated the visual style and the original aspects inherent in an Iranian vampire film, while the mix of genres did create something new. On the other hand, it begins very well and does meander in the second half somewhat. It would probably have worked better as a ninety minute movie given the slightness of the material itself. Still, it has to be praised for going somewhere new and it shows there is always a different way to approach old ideas.
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