A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night successfully transfers our expectations of the vampire film from the environs of the Western world and into the less well explored realm (cinematically at least) of Iran. Except it was shot in California. Ahh. Well, just go with it. I’m fairly certain we wouldn’t have had quite such an impressive film had it been made in that country.
Sheila Vand is The Girl, a vampire that stalks the mostly empty streets of Bad City. She cuts an interesting figure as she skateboards through the streets looking for victims, whilst wearing a chador. Not only a culturally significant item of clothing, but one that also allows The Girl to fade into one of the many, many shadows that make up Bad City. This is a perfect example of gender switching. Rather than being the defenceless woman she is the killer, targeting the weak, the evil, the ones who won’t be missed. At the same time she leads a solitary existence. Such is the nature of vampirism I guess.
Released in stark black and white, the desolation of Bad City and The Girl’s loneliness are placed front and centre. The monochrome approach is effective in emphasising both the emotional affectations of the characters, but to delve into the murky and ambiguous waters of whether it is right to take a life. And if you do so because you would die otherwise, who should your targets be? Should you drain the blood of the bad, the good, or a mixture of the two? And there is the gender question: do you attack men or women? It is a question that Ana Lily Amirpour asks over and over again from the director’s chair.
If the black and white colour palette wasn’t enough of a hint, the overall tone is almost one of a waking death, presenting a slow and ponderous dreamscape. Unlike other films that are slow to get going, here it is to its credit that it remains engaging without having to reveal too much. The vampire attacks are well structured, with the narrative taking its time to reveal itself.
Just as definitive is the soundtrack, mixing up a variety of sources to act as a thematic background to the love story that is playing out front and centre. The Girl plays records on her LP player, in particular when Arash, a potential suitor, turns up, and it’s as if she is playing all of these tunes for us. It’s a good way to build up both the subtext of the onscreen action as well as being a solid audio experience in its own right. There’s a pleasing scene where Arash first meets The Girl, with him dressed up as Dracula. There is initial confusion on her part that is wonderfully played by Vand, again subverting the typical gender stereotypes and making Arash, for want of a better term, the damsel.
Anyone who has watched How I Met Your Mother will recognise the actor playing Arash’s father, Marshall Manesh. His character, Hossein, is a junkie, creating an awkward tension between him and his son. On first glimpse it seems that, out of all the residents in Bad City, Arash is the only one without some sort of vice. In that respect it seems that Bad City is the right place for The Girl to ply her own particular trade. But it is through her interactions and slowly budding relationship that her otherwise cool, calm exterior begins to melt. The main question though is whether it can last. Yes, that old chestnut.
Amirpour has crafted a well balanced vampire film, drawing heavy influence from the obvious vampire classics to the Spaghetti Western genre. For me it has a gentle beauty to it, in spite of the brief moments of violence.