Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night


Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour.
2014. Not Rated, 101 minutes.
Cast:
Sheila Vand
Arash Marandi
Marshall Manesh
Dominic Rains
Mozhan MarnĂ²
Rome Shadanloo

The first person we meet, Arash (Marandi), is not the person who drives the action, at least not all of it. He's a guy struggling through life, trying to take care of himself and his heroin-addicted father. His dad's problems causes periodic run-ins with the local drug dealer/pimp. This sets up one half of the film. The other half is concerned with an unnamed girl (Vand) who spends most nights walking up and down the street. What no one seems to know is that she is a vampire. Occasionally, she does vampire things. As fate would have it, and the fact that this is a pretty sparsely populated town, the two meet and form an interesting relationship.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a sufficiently brooding and dark affair. Surprisingly, much of that darkness, if not more, has to do with Arash's life. His relationship with his father is strained, at best. He's a bit on the socially awkward side. Finally, the success he begins to experience is only because of the severe misfortune of others. As for our vampire, she mostly just stalks her prey, but she occasionally just scares the hell out of them. Understandably, she is also socially awkward. However, she no indiscriminate killing machine. She is capable of making friends and endears herself to both Arash and a local prostitute that works the same street as this girl, but for far different reasons.

One of things that makes this film work, is how little is actually said by our characters. Neither Arash or the girl are big talkers. They both communicate as much through their eyes and body language. Both of our leads are up to the task, perfectly conveying every emotion. While there is plenty of dialogue, not as much as expected is spoken by our two main characters. Both of them pull it off very well, ensuring that the movie never drags. To this end, the film also manages its secondary characters very well. These are all people who are very well developed. They have to be. They have to carry the scenes they have with either our protagonist or antagonist.

The terms protagonist and antagonist, in this case, are interchangeable and benign. Neither Arash nor the girl is actively working against the other on the side of good or evil. These are just two people living their lives. It just so happens that what they do seems to either affect the other. It helps give off the illusion that there is a bond between them even when they meet for the first time. This unspoken connection is completely palpable drives the second half of the film. It also sets up the film's perfectly ambiguous conclusion. What happens is clear, but what is known or suspected by one of the two is not. It's clear that one of them is left completely in the dark regarding how much the other knows.


Also helping to move things along is our sheer interest in the exploits of our vampire. She is a mysterious creature readily deciding which people deserve to live and die. In many ways, she is this film's version of the morality police. Those that die are merely the ones to who run afoul of the ones she's deemed worthy of life. Nothing is discussed of her being a vampire because, as stated before, no one knows until it's too late. The one exception really being a little boy far too scared to even bring it up. This aids the film in maintaining its air of mystery. So, too, does her appearance. It includes a brilliant update on the traditional Dracula cape. Flowing and black, it becomes the cloak in which her victims are enveloped. It's an impressive sight when she springs into action. Particularly haunting is the image of her riding a skateboard down the middle of the road.

The whole of this movie is visually impressive. The aesthetic choice to shoot in black and white is a wise one. The contrast between light and dark is sharp, giving the viewer a crispness not possible with color. It also lends to the idea of our vampire being a creature of a different time. To foster that illusion, a vintage car plays a prominent role, cell phones look to be a decade old, and the walls of the vampire's bedroom is adorned with posters of Michael Jackson and Madonna. Musically, eighties and eighties inspired tuned are used to marvelous effect. The soundtrack is wonderfully retro in some areas, surprisingly modern in others. Even more surprising, given that the film is set in Iran, is how western it all sounds regardless of the language being spoken. However, it should be noted that even though Persian is the exclusively spoken language, this is credited as being an American production. Elijah Wood of Lord of the Rings fame is one of its backers.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is not without flaw. While one gets the sense that the town these people live in, aptly named Bad City, is purposely under-populated to create a sense of isolation, it does so without giving these people the heightened awareness that should come from having part of such a situation. With not many of them to begin with, it stands to reason that suspicions would be raised and vocalized when they start suddenly dying off. Only one of the murders warrants any conversation at all. This is largely due to how closely its tied to our finale. There is also a complete lack of the police presence that would seem to be required of this tale. Luckily, these are small, forgivable problems in the grand scheme of things. That sense of isolation I mentioned is key to maintaining the film's overall sense of dread and a police procedural might only serve to muddy the waters.

Love stories between humans and vampires are nothing new to the silver screen. They've just gotten a bad rap over the last decade due to the rise of Twilight. Somehow, after nearly of century of vampire flicks, there is still room for new interpretations on the interactions between us and them. This movie gives us one. The hand-wringing and melodrama of that infamous franchise is nowhere to be found, thankfully. This film gives us an approach that is nicely restrained in areas of the heart and just graphic enough, as far as its violence is concerned to make sure we understand the harsh realities of being a vampire. What the girl is capable is no mystery, nor stylized to placate a PG-13 audience. All of this makes A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night a valuable and welcome addition to vampire lore.




14 comments:

  1. With all the hype, I have to say the story underwhelmed me a little. As you note, the black and white cinematography is quite impressive, and has an interesting soundtrack featuring underground Iranian bands. I see the film as a feminist critique of oppression of women in Iran. She is not a victim, but proactive. An important and interesting film, but I think the director still needs to improve a few things in terms of storytelling, and her next project might be a step up.

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    1. Hadn't thought of that interpretation. It makes total sense. Thanks for that! I am also anxiously awaiting Amirpour's next project.

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  2. I liked this one. It did have its flaws, but it was still very enjoyable for me. You're absolutely right about black and white being the best choice here. Nice write up!

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    1. Glad you liked it. That black and white is so perfect, here. Thanks!

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  3. I still hang my head in shame for not watching this yet. I really wanted to, but life got in the way and I never had the time. I'll see it eventually. Great review, buddy!

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    1. Thanks. It's still streaming on Netflix.

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  4. This is one of many films in recent years that I really, really, really want to see.

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    1. Do it. I think you will really enjoy it. Streaming on Netflix, now.

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  5. I've heard a lot of great things about this, and it's been sitting on my watch list for some time. Great review!

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    1. I hope you check it out. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

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  6. Although this is a 2014 film, I caught it on Netflix earlier this year. It's by far one of the best I've seen all year! Great review!!! I need to re-watch this one.

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    1. I watched it on Netflix, too. Glad you're a fan of it.

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  7. I'm so glad you liked this movie, too. I found it to be quite different from anything else I've seen. Like Chris I saw a feminist subtext, but I liked it for the cinematography and gloriously atmospheric quality.

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    1. Yeah, I'm not sure why I didn't see it. I'm usually pretty good at that sort of thing. Definitely a different type of vampire flick.

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