Festival buzz can be an irritating phenomenon. On the one hand, it’s nice to identify the upcoming indie films that you need to see. On the other, it can feel like you’re waiting forever for the chance to actually watch them. Ana Lily Amirpour’s black and white Iranian vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night has ridden a wave of acclaim for months and now finally stalks its way into UK cinemas. It’s worth the wait. Hugely stylish and wonderfully witty, this is a darkly comic treat.
The film takes place in Bad City, where James Dean-lookalike Arash (Arash Marandi) lives with his drug-addicted father (Marshall Manesh). Arash needs money to pay off his dad’s no-good dealer Saeed (Dominic Rains), whose pimping business will shortly lead him into the path of The Girl (Sheila Vand).
It’s easy to pinpoint the influences at play in A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. The combination of deeply stylish black and white photography, a deeply cool soundtrack and a deeply deadpan wit immediately call to mind the work of Jim Jarmusch (particularly films like Mystery Train and Dead Man), while Amirpour’s love of David Lynch is very much in evidence. The film could so easily be a hollow imitator coasting on style alone with nothing else to offer. After all, we’re not short of bad Lynch imitators. Thankfully, this is not the case.
For starters, that style is no bad thing. Amirpour has an excellent eye, and delivers some wonderfully striking images with cinematographer Lyle Vincent. Bad City is enticing and exciting while being convincingly dead-end, and The Girl cruises through its streets like the dangerous, unknowable element that she is. Not since Michael Almereyda’s Nadja has a black and white vampire movie made its bloodsucker look so cool, and Elina Löwensohn never rode a skateboard.
There’s also that wonderful subversion of the title’s expectations. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night sounds more like the opening to a slasher movie than the title of an arthouse film, but the film and the character thrive on preconceptions. Although Amirpour has said in interviews that she doesn’t see The Girl as an avenging force with an intentionally feminist agenda, it’s very easy to see her as such. She stalks the night-time streets of the city without fear, and attacks brutal patriarchal systems with deadly efficiency.
Vand’s performance is excellent, portraying the character’s otherworldliness as well as her humanity, dancing to records alone in her room or telling a little child to be good before stealing that skateboard. She’s works wonderfully with Marandi too, who brings out the loneliness in Arash that matches the vampire’s. Amirpour shows a gift for deadpan comedy too; one of the film’s funniest sequences is the meeting of the two leads, as a drunken Arash, returning from a costume party as a vampire, meets the real thing. Sad and confused by the world, Arash is clearly not a worthy victim for The Girl.
In terms of plot, Amirpour is content to let her characters drift a little. Arash clearly wants a better, more stylish life for himself, while being bogged down by his commitment to his old man. The Girl moves through the night, targeting victims, and eventually their paths cross. Their connection feels natural and underplayed, and watching their relationship unfold is a real pleasure. There’s a heart to the film that’s as important as its style and humour.
So believe the hype, for it is a striking, attention-grabbing debut. You will fall in love with this film.