Saturday, January 16, 2016

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walk Home Alone at Night (2014), written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, is an unconventional vampire movie for today. It's filmed in black and white, set in an Iranian ghost town known as Bad City (although it was produced in California), and the characters speak Persian. More importantly, it treats its vampire seriously.

The vampire is not a dapper aristocrat or a carnivorous monster but a young, unnamed woman in a striped shirt and black veil. Known only as the Girl, she (Sheila Vand) is a quiet, lonely creature in a quiet, lonely city. When she's not drinking blood, she's dancing to music in her apartment. One night, she meets Arash (Arash Marandi), a young man burdened by his drug-addled father (Marshall Manesh), and that initiates a low-key, almost unspoken romance.

The movie does not contain many of the elements one would expect from a vampire movie. The Girl doesn't turn into a bat, there's no Van Helsing equivalent trying to hunt her down, and we don't see the Girl having to deal with sunlight or anything like that. Nor is it especially violent or gory. Sure, She kills a few of people, biting out their throats with fangs, but the movie doesn't linger on that in explicit detail. It's a harsh world, and she does what she must to survive. Much creepier is when she tells someone she will watch him for the rest of his life to make sure he's a good boy.

Amirpour draws on a number of different genres and styles. The music and desert location are reminiscent of a Spaghetti Western, the business with the drug dealer and prostitute would fit well in a crime drama, and the romance between the Girl and Arash, where long silences are punctuated by significant glances and subtle physical gestures, could have been something out of a Jim Jarmusch movie.

There are also elements of comedy, although they're presented in a more straight-laced manner than anything resembling goofy slapstick. Think of a stalking scene from any other vampire movie. Normally, we'd follow the intended victim as he or she walks through a dark alleyway, no signs of the monster until it leaps out of the shadows with supernatural quickness. Here, the Girl is shown following her targets at a distance from behind. She's not gliding, flying, or doing anything magical; just the sight of her following people at a brisk walk is enough to generate a laugh. And don't get me started on what happens once she gets her hands on a skateboard.

The movie also has some fun contrasting the stereotypical image of vampires with the real thing. Arash and The Girl meet while he's walking home from a costume party, tripping on ecstasy and dressed as Dracula. She, rather patiently all things considered, takes him back to her place to recuperate, and her apartment is covered with posters of the likes of Michael Jackson and the BeeGees.

Thematically, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is about how two lonely people find each other in a quiet, desolate place, and one of those people just happens to be a vampire. There's not a whole of action or even dialogue. It's a most peculiar film, not the kind that would play well with mainstream audiences, but then again, it shouldn't.

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