Movie Review – A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

2014’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was tagged upon its release as “The first Iranian vampire Western,” and that turns out to be a very apt description. Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, an Iranian-American filmmaker in her feature film debut, the film blends the styles of various genres into a stunningly beautiful black and white presentation, seen through the lens of an Iranian immigrant sensibility. While the language of the film is Farsi and the location is set in a fictional Middle Eastern town which the characters call Bad City, the actual filming location was the town of Taft in southern California with a cast of fellow Iranian-American actors.

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The film follows the parallel lives of Arash, a young man dealing with a drug addicted father, and The Girl, a vampire who stalks the night and feeds upon the lower dregs of Bad City. Both are lonely figures who find something attractive in the other, and the movie, in addition to the other genres mentioned, is very much an understated romance.

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Bad City is the Middle Eastern industrialized equivalent of the American frontier town where law and order are of pure vigilantism. If the allusion weren’t made clear enough, the music that is played several times as Arash drives through the streets will remind audiences of a Sergio Leone Western, and we even see a cross-dresser playing with a balloon wearing a kitschy, tasseled cowboy novelty shirt. The Girl wanders the night wearing a black chador, and as the wind catches the fabric it spreads to evoke a bat spreading its wings. Her targets are predominantly abusive men, and the commentary and criticism of the misogyny of many Middle Eastern countries is certainly not accidental, nor is the use of the chador as her predatory attire. She is the stand-in for the lone gunman in this lawless land.

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We see oil pumps continually rising and falling, like the pecking of hungry hens, drawing oil from the earth symbolically as The Girl draws blood from her victims. Both can be viewed as addictions, and the themes of dependence and moral conflict are strong. We see characters trying – and often failing – to maintain an ethical standard while also maintaining a standard of living. Eventually, one must give way to the other.

Amidst these ideas is a gorgeous, largely quiet film. The aesthetics draw inspiration from teen cultures of the 1950s and 1980s. Though Arash and The Girl look like they’re from different decades, the combination somehow works and adds an additional quirky layer to an already eclectic film. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night makes something distinctive by borrowing from familiar elements and employing them in new, unique ways.

Grade: B+

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