The title, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night evokes a sense of fear and vulnerability. A solitary figure walking unforgiving nocturnal streets. In the context of Ana Lily Amirpour's new horror film, it evokes something else: a sense of subversive empowerment. Gender roles will be fiendishly reversed to macabre and rather entertaining results. It's indeed a story about predators, but not necessarily the type of predators you think.
The story is set in Bad City, a fictional and apparently lawless Iranian ghost town. Early on, we see a large pile of corpses collecting beneath a bridge. This surreal, fantasy landscape is watched over by a quiet female vampire, known as The Girl (Sheila Vand, Argo). She stalks the streets, clad in a cape-like burqa, keeping a protective eye on world-weary prostitutes and harmless drugged-out hipsters.
Alas, relationships are not easy for humans or vampires, and complications ensue when she falls in love. The film features an utterly captivating romantic meet-cute, involving a street-lamp and a store bought Dracula costume. Sadly, it won't be long before the gore hits the sand.
Shot in beautifully-hazy black and white, and paced like a trickle of blood, the film is a visual fusion of elements. It blends comic book tones, shades of Spaghetti-western-Tarantino and vintage Jim Jarmusch with a slyly unsettling cinematic score. Writer-director Amirpour executes several gleefully suspenseful, funny sequences with little to no dialogue.
It's a remarkable and assured debut film from Amirpour. Along with Jennifer Kent's The Babadook, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night continues the trend of female horror filmmakers excelling vastly beyond their male contemporaries.
The plot moves slowly, but methodically, employing stark narrative minimalism. There's no fat to be found, only muscle. If the film has a flaw, it lies in the script's occasionally predictable nature. Certain plot developments feel somehow inevitable. Yet, each twist is cleverly delivered. This is a film that values style and mood above all else.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is not about what happens, it's about how it happens. And what song is playing when it happens.
Published in Volume 69, Number 26 of The Uniter (March 25, 2015)