When watching a feature directorial debut, look not just at how good the movie is, but how much promise it shows. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the feature directorial debut of Ana Lily Amirpour, is not perfect, but the amount of promise it shows is hard to describe.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night wears its genre influences on its sleeves. If you can catch even half the references, then you will walk out with just a few more cool points added to your credibility. This is genre mashup that is sometimes incoherent, yet always riveting to watch.
Set in an Iranian ghost town called Bad City during an unspecified point in time, Girl chronicles a vague dystopia in which the borders are lined with ditches filled with dead bodies, the sun never seems to shine, and heroin is just the way people connect with one another. So basically, it is like a really horrifying Bruce Springsteen song come to life. There is no better way to explore human connection than through a vampire. Girl has been marketed as an “Iranian Vampire Western,” which is a perfect way to find a niche audience. Like any good western, the lead is never given a name. She is a vampire who wanders the empty streets at night, feasting on whatever lonely men happen to cross her path. But then, she finds love, or at least feelings in general, in Arash (Arash Marandi) who is sometimes as cool as James Dean and other times as awkward as Ben Braddock.
Yes, this is a film about a teenage vampire who finds love. However, this is not the indie version of Twilight. Amirpour has definitely watched enough vampire films to identify tropes and then subvert them. A Girl Walks Home finds the humanity in a vampire by showing that there actually isn’t that much of a difference between man and vampire. Sure, The Girl has agency and shows no fear, yet she is cripplingly lonely when finally confronted with love. It probably helps that Sheila Vand saw more than a just vampire in her character. With very few words, she creates a character who is both lovely and terrifying. Enjoy hearing her say “are you a bad boy?” in Farsi.
You will probably walk away from this film with very little understanding of what happened. What is certain, however, is that Ana Lily Amirpour was born to be a filmmaker. She barely needs a story; all she needs is some good lighting and even better music to convey emotions. Bad City doesn’t really exist, but it feels like a place that was invented both by experience and nightmares. The best kind of vision is one in which it feels like a director is inviting you into their weird little world. There is no better example of this than the scene where The Girl puts on White Lies’ “Death” (which I thought was a Cure song at first, because I’m not good at being cool) on her record player while her and Arash get the feels. I just want to hug scenes like this and live in them forever. Amirpour understands how to appeal to both the film snob and the sad teenager inside all of us.
Girl Walks Home is all over the place, sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse. Sometimes, it feels like a French New Wave Spaghetti Western, and other times it feels like Near Dark by way of David Lynch. It is a scrappy debut, but one that deserves your attention. In the same way that Reservoir Dogs showed that Tarantino was a budding master at writing dialogue and Who’s That Knocking at My Door showed that Scorsese was a budding master at turning violence into art, Girl Walks Home shows Amirpour as a budding master of mashing up genres while capturing loneliness through sight and sound.
So to answer the question that you are probably asking, this film is not necessarily accessible to the casual filmgoer. But if you take the risk and go see A GIrl Walks Home Alone at Night, you might walk away from the black and white facade and immediately into the nearest video store you can find (a few of these still exist) with a pile of movies you had never heard of before.