A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a stark, beguiling and utterly extraordinary Iranian film from director Ana Lily Amirpour. It is emphatically not for everyone. But if it is, boy are you in for a treat.
Blending western, horror, offbeat humour and surreal romance in such a fashion is risky to say the least. Yet Amirpour somehow manages to create something unique. Perhaps she has magic powers. After all, watching this film, I felt like I was being hypnotised, gradually succumbing to a dark and delicious cinematic spell. And make no mistake, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is pure cinema.
The plot – involving a lonely hijab clad female vampire stalking the streets of Iranian ghost town “Bad City” – is merely the deceptively simple hook on which hangs Lyle Vincent’s drenched-with-atmosphere monochrome cinematography, and Amirpour’s subtle and brilliant set pieces. Said set pieces are played out at a trancelike pace, with woozy, hypnotic long takes adding to their hugely understated power. Two scenes in particular, one involving a long shot of two people listening to a record, the other involving ear-piercing, are infused with some of the most poignant and heart-wrenching romantic longing I have seen in any film for a long time – even though Amirpour’s vision is a dark and twisted one.
In spite of its uniqueness, cineastes will spot several influences present in the film, from movies as diverse as Sergio Leone’s Once upon a time in the West, Michael Almereya’s Nadja, Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction, Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, as well as David Lynch films including Eraserhead, and the films of Jim Jarmusch in general (particularly Down by Law and Dead Man). Oddly, it also contains echoes of Iranian animated film Persepoplis, especially in sequences where “The Girl” (a splendid Sheila Vand) listens to transgressive, western pop music in her “lair”.
Not that this is a political film. It’s message appears to be more an understated feminist one, albeit one with a very dark love story at its centre. Perhaps this would be a good point to warn about violence, drug use and some sexual content (the latter a particularly brave inclusion for an Iranian film), but for a sort-of horror movie it isn’t really that scary. It is also worth reiterating that this isn’t a film for those whose appreciation for cinema doesn’t extend beyond the latest multiplex blockbusters. Even amongst the art house crowd, I suspect for everyone who loves it there will be as many who hate it.
I belong firmly in the former category. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a truly mesmerising experience. It is bold, absorbing, beautiful and dangerous, as all great art should be. If you watch just one Iranian monochrome, spaghetti western, skateboarding, vampire love story this year, make sure it’s this one.
Simon Dillon, June 2015.