A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

There were two things I didn't expect coming into this film.  One, I did not know ahead of time who the director was, but I knew that the story takes place in Iran.  Since a number of years ago the few film imports we could get from Iran won a bunch of praise and recognition, I thought this horror film was actually made there.  I was wondering how much of a typical horror film could be made in Iran when a good percentage of what is in a typical film I watch would land a person in jail, or worse, for making it in that country, even if it only showed on the international market.  The other is I didn't know the director, Ana Lily Amirpour, was responsible for one of the worst films I have ever seen: The Bad Batch.  Once I saw her name come up in the credits I knew I recognized it, but not from where.

Even if I had known that ahead of time I was bound to see this eventually.  It was all the rage when it came out, although I have no idea why I didn't see it.  Rather than Iran it was filmed in Taft, California, which is just outside of Bakersfield, where Amirpour was living at the time.  I was also right that the movie is chock full of things that the Iranian government would not have appreciated being shown if the movie was made there.  The fictional setting of Bad City is home to pimps, prostitutes and petty thieves, as well as one lonely vampire that has made it her feeding ground.

Arash (Arash Marandi) is a young man living in Bad City who makes a living working as a handyman for a rich family.  His father Hossein (Marshall Monesh) is a junkie and a gambler, and his debts result in Arash's car, for which he legitimately worked, being seized by local pimp and pusher Saeed (Dominic Rains).  After abusing his prostitute Atti (Mozhan Marnò) he is stalked by a mysterious girl (Sheila Vand), whom he takes home, only to find that she is a vampire.

Hoping to get his ride back, Arash arrives right after the girl feeds and finds Saeed dead.  He reclaims his car, along with Saeed's drugs and money, and sets about selling off the pimp's inventory.  After being given ecstasy at a party he encounters the girl again, and soon he begins to fall in love with her and she with him.  As the rest of Arash's life begins to crumble he hopes to leave Bad City and take her with him.  However, as he begins to become more aware of what she is, he is faced with a dilemma on how to proceed. 

Amirpour's movies seem to spend a lot of time with people wandering from place to place, with a heavy emphasis on music and scenery.  It did not work at all in The Bad Batch, mainly because there wasn't anyone to truly care about, and too many of the scenes were meant to either be gross or self-consciously weird.  Both budget and inexperience, with this being her first film and not having her head filled with ideas of how great she is, worked in this movie's favor.  The decision to film in black and white was an artistic, rather than budgetary choice, and Amirpour has a good eye for lighting and finding places to film that convey what the characters are feeling.  On the other hand some of the problems do peek through, such as a transgender prostitute dancing with a balloon that seems to be in the movie simply because Amirpour liked the visual aspect. 

The David Lynch influence is quite apparent, with many of the characters delivering lines in the same bored, expressionless way Lynch has many of his actors perform.  What Amirpour adds to it is, while the line delivery may be somewhat robotic, a good portion of the tension and emotion comes about from expressions and eye movements.  It's as if the actual lines of dialogue are secondary, as the characters are trying to deceive themselves anyway, but the actual conversation is there in what is not said.  This is especially important in the end, which is played complete silent, and enhanced by a cat (Masuka) that manages to be one of the best actors in the movie without even trying. 

It is one of those movies where there have been multiple interpretations about what it is supposed to mean or what Amirpour is trying to tell the audience, but between her own confused and drug-fueled ramblings when asked those questions and the ultimate face-plant that was The Bad Batch, it's quite clear there's not a lot of deep meaning here.  It's a film about loneliness and the consequences of such, much more than it is a horror film, and the empty streets and general desolation of Bad City enhances it.  Amirpour, with her artist's eye, just does a great job of framing the scenes in a certain way that it feels like the film is deeper than it really is.  That doesn't take anything away from the fact that it is still a good film, both as art and as horror. 

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Time: 101 minutes
Starring: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh, Mozhan Marnò, Dominic Rains
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour



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