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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B-
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+

There's a lot left unsaid in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, a quiet movie of singular vision but a somewhat frustrating lack of anything in particular to say. Much like the otherwise incomparable The Interview, it's fascinating for its global-cultural context. It's marketed with the tag line, "The first Iranian Vampire Western." That's one hell of a genre mashup, and arguably alone makes the film worth a look.

One might also wonder how this film would have been received in Iran. There's a female vampire in it, who at one point is shown topless in a bathtub. Iran allows this? Evidently not: the film is technically American. Writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour was born in England and lives in Los Angeles. Elijah Wood is one of the film's producers. It's set in the fictional Iranian town of Bad City but shot in California. Contrary to surface appearances, this is not an Iranian film. It's an American film featuring Persian dialogue by an Iranian-American about Iranians in a setting lost in time. This perhaps would explain the male protagonist, Arash (Arash Marandi, stoic as pretty much all the characters), looking a lot like an Iranian James Dean.

What little plot there is, is very simple. Arash is frustrated with his drug addict father (Marshall Manesh), who doesn't have the money to pay his thoroughly ridiculous-looking dealer (Dominic Rains). The dealer is covered with stupid tattoos, including the word SEX in semi-messy lettering across the front of his neck. There's also a random little neighborhood boy.

More than one of these people fall victim in one way or another to the Girl of the title, who appears out of nowhere staring creepily out of her headscarf and chador that remarkably resembles a cape. The Girl, as she is called, is played by big-eyed Sheila Vand with alternating indifference and menace. She steals the little boy's skateboard, creating one of the film's more memorable visuals: a Muslim vampire rolling down the middle of a street with her black chador-cape flapping in the wind behind her.

Bad City apparently lives up to its name. In the opening sequence we see Arash walking casually past a pit full of apparently dead bodies. We see this again later, but are never told where all that death is coming from. We only know these few characters are being stalked by The Girl. She seems to like dancing in her apartment to 80s New Wave music, where there is a lot of off-kilter memorabilia hanging -- including, memorably, a photo of Margaret Atwood in the design of Madonna's debut album cover.

It takes a while to see a first vampire attack. The appearance of fangs is used sparingly, always worthy of appreciation. There's a lot of build-up of tension, and actually not that much on-screen violence, which makes it all the more memorable when it happens. All this action, as well as the rather large amount of non-action, is shot in beautifully stark black and white, furthering the mashup feeling -- like we're looking at 50s characters with 80s interests living in 40s noir.

I wish we could have learned more about the characters themselves, rather than just a dag with a drug habit and a son with an apparent affection for a cat. That cat has a presence in a few scenes that makes it hard to tell if it's unintentional humor. Arash and The Girl eventually take an interest in each other but it's never clear what her intentions are with him or what he really knows about her; it would appear he knows nothing of her being a monster. She does keep jewelry as a sort of trophy from her victims. She likes to take watches.

A Girl Walks Home at Night has style to spare, to be sure, but somewhat at the expense of substance. Maybe there's a bit of subtext I'm missing, which I'd be willing to admit. A lot of time is spent watching the characters to little more than stare. This film clearly has a point of view but it's difficult to pin down exactly what it is. Atwood is quoted as saying she liked the idea of "hijab-wearing women biting back," so there's that. Amirpour gives us a lot to think about, if not any clear conclusions.

Sheila Vand kind of does more skateboarding than walking in A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT.

Overall: B
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