REVIEW: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night has been referred to as a ‘genre stew’. I would describe it as a pulpy, sexy, shadowy, starkly shot Iranian neo-noir horror-Western…conceptually; it’s easy to be hooked before even watching the film.
The plot is pretty minimalist: set in the lonely, perpetually deserted and drug-addled ‘Bad City’ (that’s really what it’s called); the townspeople are stalked through the night by a vampire, a sultry, hijab-wearing recluse with no back story and a penchant for scaring kids. A love story unfolds, but really it’s the feel and dark tone of the film that we become immersed in, rather than the plot.
Sheila Vand is electric as ‘The Girl’…her character communicates with little dialogue but is quietly breathtaking, acting mainly with her solemn eyes and sweeping movements. The exquisitely tense and provocative sequence of her getting ready to go out and stalk, up until her first kill (a sleazy drug-dealer pimp who is enjoyably loathsome), is matched perfectly to the seemingly impulsive mix of music which burns along with the tension, accumulating in a deliciously gory (finger-licking) climax. For me, it’s the best, most edge-of-your-seat section of the movie, and demonstrates the varied soundtrack which is as mish-mashed as the film’s genre(s), mixing a classical horror score with pumping electronic interludes and fervent Iranian vocals.
Although this is a ‘vampire’ film, the fact that The Girl is a vampire is relatively insignificant. The story is more focused on her (and the fellow townspeople’s) loneliness, desperation, and yearning for a deeper connection, which she finds in Arash. The bringing together of the two outcasts, along with the pacing of scenes and masterful use of silence to build tension, reminds me a lot of 2011’s Drive, an equally stylish and exhilarating neo-noir (although perhaps more can be said for Drive’s story).
A director’s style can quickly be established by taking note of what they choose to linger on in any particular scene, and there are moments of focus in Amirpour’s debut which boldly establish themselves as immediately iconic; a close-up of a cat’s eye, an exhalation of cigarette smoke; the movement of The Girl’s cloak as she rides a skateboard down a desolate, darkened street; each of these shots, when frozen and examined, truly do justice to the noir cinema which Amirpour is clearly influenced by. Her use of variable depth of field as a method of cutting between character focus is also striking, and sets the film apart.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, while fascinating to look at, is somewhat a case of ‘style over substance’; whilst its concepts and aesthetics are thrilling and clever, its core is a little lacking in story and character motivation. The minimalist plot feels too directionless, with the last act in particular spiralling off and failing to match up to the strength and provocation of its opening. But if you’re a fan of any of the genres which describe it, it’s certainly worth a viewing if not just to admire its bite.