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Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, A
Kino // Unrated // November 21, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
Meshing a vampire film with the theme of female redemption is something that many would not expect from the genre. Women are normally the vulnerable victims that are preyed upon by the bloodthirsty male creature. However, the vampire film is taken in a new direction when the feature's single vampire happens to be a female wearing a hijab. Many individuals in the Western world consider this to be an oppressive religious form of head covering, but that isn't always the case. For many Muslim women, it's simply a way of expressing one's personal faith. In fact, it's often worn with a sense of empowerment, even by many in American culture today. Just look at practically any cover of Azizah magazine, and you'll see how many women are proud to wear it. Iranian writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour delivers an impactful message in her newest film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, working against the stereotypical assumptions of many parts of the world in numerous ways.
In an Iranian ghost-town that goes by the name of "Bad City," crime and death constantly walk nearly every street corner. Arash Marandi (Arash) is one of the many townspeople who sulk in their own loneliness. A drug dealer demands owed money from Arash's father, leading to a series of problems that will change his life forever. Little do the people of Bad City realize that they are being stalked by a lonely vampire (Sheila Vand) that seems to lurk in the shadows without a name, waiting to target her next victim.
Comparisons will inevitably be made to Frank Miller's Sin City, since even the name of the city isn't too far off. The crime isn't quite as over-the-top, but this is nonetheless a corrupt place that is incredibly unsafe for the defenseless. Arash has worked extremely hard for a wealthy family in order to save enough cash to buy the car of his dreams, which is ultimately stolen by a drug dealer, due to his father not paying up. Amirpour's screenplay continues to switch off between telling the story of Arash and that of the girl. Inevitably, their paths are sure to cross in some way. Once they do, Arash is wearing a Dracula costume while walking home from a party, instantly catching the girl's attention, and our laughter. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night understands how ridiculous it can become, and transitions its tone appropriately. The two are fascinated by one another, but we know that they've both done terrible things, which they inevitably hide from one another. The audience is constantly held on edge, wondering if she will strike, or how he will react if she were to tell him of her secret. This leaves us with a consistently uneasy feeling throughout the duration of almost the entire film.
The girl doesn't just strike anybody who is on the street, so how does she decide who to feast upon? Well, she often brings a sort of vigilante justice to Bad City by cleaning up some of the evil on the streets. When a young boy appears to be going down a slippery path to a criminal life, she takes it upon herself to scare him away from such acts. She may not speak very much, but this is a character that we can relate with. She expresses remorse for what she has to do to survive, recognizes that her actions aren't always necessarily the "right" thing to do, but knows that it's what she must do. We never learn of her past, but this is a fascinating role with a whole lot of disposition hiding underneath. It appears as though she believes that her one hope at freedom is Arash, who wants absolutely nothing to do with Bad City and the crime that often takes place within it. He dreams of a different life, which is ultimately what brings these two incredibly different individuals together. While it may not seem it from the description, this is largely a character study where we're constantly looking forward, never truly seeing what has come before. Both the girl and Arash are trying to make new lives for themselves, so why explore what they're trying to leave in the past?
Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour clearly has an attraction to symbolism and metaphors, as the film is absolutely full of them. One of the key ones is that of a cat that Arash takes home. Nobody seems to want it, as it continues to move from one location to the next. However, the cat largely acts as a human character in its own right. Obviously, it doesn't speak, but it takes on many traits that affect the film's story in monumental ways. The cat seems to be watching over Arash, as Amirpour constantly refers back to the cat's reaction before a major turning point occurs. This is an interesting bit, but not all of the pieces of symbolism works as well. Some of the metaphors fall flat, leaving us almost completely in the dark. Amirpour's biggest detractor here is the pacing, as there are a lot of lulls, especially through the third act. This can largely be considered as abstract filmmaking, and if that isn't your thing, then you absolutely won't be able to stand how this feature moves.
Amirpour's experience is primarily rooted within short features, but she displays an impressive visual style in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The film is shot entirely in black-and-white, providing the picture with a very classical, yet disturbing look. When the girl walks the streets at night, her black clothing blends in with the darkness of the shadows. This provides the character with an eerie effect that works tremendously well. However, this is counterbalanced by the high-energy music selections that provide a different atmosphere. However, they're perfect selections, given the themes of sadness and the desire for a better life. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night has me excited to see what Ana Lily Amirpour could deliver next, as she proves to be a power to be reckoned with.
There simply aren't films out there like this, and that's part of why this is worth checking out. It's an intriguing look at two people who are simply looking for a clean slate to start a better life. This all occurs within the confines of Bad City, which is appropriately named. Supported with a tremendous use of black-and-white cinematography and excellent music selections, there's plenty of atmosphere to go around. The transitions in tone are smooth, as it can be creepy, inspiration, and tense, all at the same time. However, there are some pacing issues, particularly in the third act. Some of the symbolism feels a bit contrived, but this is still a smart entry in a genre that is clearly getting a makeover by independent filmmakers. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is more than your typical vampire flick. Recommended.