Unrated | 101min | 2014 | (USA) | Ana Lily Amirpour
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was written and directed by Iranian-American Ana Lily Amirpour and is based on her graphic novel of the same name. Filmed in California but set in a surreal, industrial Iranian town called “Bad City,” it follows a vampire (Sheila Vand) who wanders the streets looking for . . . .well, it’s never quite clear what she’s looking for, or what she wants, or what she’s doing.
Silent for most of the film, the “Girl” has her longest conversation with a prostitute (Mozhan Marno), one of the people she follows—and what the Girl says about the prostitute seems to shed light on herself, the only illumination we get: “You’re sad. You don’t remember what you want. You don’t remember wanting. It passed long ago. And nothing ever changes.”
Not least because of her clear affinity with the prostitute, it seems at first that the Girl is a kind of feminist vigilante: she kills a drug-dealing pimp who abuses the prostitute and a heroin addict who forces drugs on her. But she also terrorizes a small boy for no apparent reason (he’s male?) and ravages a homeless man who, again, seems to have done nothing wrong. Her violence seems sometimes purposeful, sometimes casual. The strong shadow she casts on the wall as she kills the homeless man suggests the enduring motif of the vampire’s doubled identity, although the film in general stays so much on the surface that this conflict is never really explored.
The film is beautiful, empty, and desolate in an aimless way—like its heroine. It is too intent on the details of its surface: each frame is exquisitely shot, but the whole is tedious and rather pointless. There are extended scenes of the Girl dancing in her apartment. Why? And the romance between the Girl and love interest Arash (Arash Marandi) has zero actual sense of connection. I reached the end of the film with no sense of insight, no truth gained. A Girl Walks Alone is a vampire narrative stripped down to its obvious visual allure but bereft of plot, of conflict and of meaning. For the most part the film is as barren as the town and the characters it depicts.
Aside from the seductiveness of the mise-en-scène, the film does, though, make interesting gestures to American horror films of the 1930s and 1940s, enhanced by the fact that it is shot in black and white. The vampire protagonist resembles Countess Zaleska of Dracula’s Daughter (1936), as Amirpor makes the traditional chador resonate with the hoods and cloaks of classic vampires.
The film even more strongly evokes Cat People (1942) in its shots of the vampire following the prostitute down deserted city streets, a scene that echoes the pursuit of the “normal” Alice (Jane Randolph) by the cursed Irena (Simone Simon). Indeed, the film might be at its most interesting in the parallel it suggests between its heroine and the cursed cat woman of Jacques Tourneur’s famous film (the Girl even adopts a cat at some point in the film). The parallel between the two “monsters”—clearly alienated by their strange desires and needs, by their lack of “normal” desires—highlights the persistence and pervasiveness of women’s alienation.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is in Farsi with English subtitles and is streaming on Netflix.