By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
It’s well-known that Hollywood has such a short memory that any contenders vying for attention during awards season will try to postpone their film’s release date to October at the very earliest. Which makes the kudos for A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night all the more impressive, given the fact that the film had its world premiere at Sundance back in January. (Kudos such as the three recent nominations for the Independent Spirit Awards including Best First Feature and Best Cinematography, and the Gotham Award for Ana Lily Amirpour as Breakthrough Director.)
That’s some long shadow that this quirky vampire film has cast … almost as long as the shadow that trails the mysterious girl cloaked all in black.
And there she stands, lurking in the corners after nightfall, her chador reminiscent of a nun’s attire. Is she on a holy mission? Perhaps her cloak hides a set of wings, this avenging angel, this moralist Satan, sent to earth to punish the evildoers while warning those who may yet earn redemption. Referred to only as “The Girl” (a marvelous Sheila Vand), it’s wild to watch her demeanor change when she’s home alone. With her chador removed, she seems harmless, a cute young lady who’s fond of spontaneously dancing to her favorite tunes.
Though filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour denies us a back story for The Girl, given the surrealistic nature of the film, it doesn’t matter. We’re perfectly happy to appreciate the bizarre happenings set in a desolate badlands (a.k.a. Bad City), where pimps, prostitutes and drug addicts roam. And where The Girl has decided to wreak a bit of biting vengeance … at least for awhile.
Back to the back story and lack thereof: When Amirpour was drafting the screenplay, she did indeed write The Girl’s history – and ended up with hundreds of years of stories which she subsequently turned into a graphic novel. Initially released with the film, the first issue is called “Death is the Answer.” (Heaven help us all, what’s the question?)
But no tale is complete without a love interest or, in this case, The Boy. Referred to in the production notes as “The Persian James Dean” (well played by Arash Marandi), the film opens with him rescuing an abandoned cat. He may look tough, sporting sideburns, cigs and a classic white T-shirt and jeans, but he’s got the soul of a pussycat (hence, he can’t help but save one of his own kind). And in Bad City, rife with monstrous derricks sucking the life out of the land, it’s not easy to be good. Even just a little bit.
Per Amirpour: “It’s like Sergio Leone and David Lynch had an Iranian rock ‘n’ roll baby, and then Nosferatu came and babysat for them.” As a result of her choosing to shoot in anamorphic black and white, the film gives off an odd, grainy distortion, the angles often skewing in unexpected ways.
Specific moments enthrall. Such as The Girl’s stolen ride on a little boy’s skateboard, the loose material of her chador flying gleefully behind. Or the big-eyed cat, a fully-realized character in his own right, taking his full, fat face straight to camera. And, seemingly frozen in time, those horrific seconds as The Girl corners her next victim. She acts with such purpose, with such lasered focus, that we find ourselves forgetting to breathe.
As a one-time singer, bass player and DJ, Amirpour carefully selected music that reflected her vision. Rather than those mercilessly blaring soundtracks that audiences have to endure more often than not – particularly in the big-budget action films — this soundtrack does what it’s supposed to do, working in harmony with the action unfolding on screen.
It’s not just that this movie is a horror noir directed by an Iranian woman (in Farsi, no less). It’s not just that this is Amirpour’s first feature film. It’s not just that the title is undeniably clever, irreverently playing on the horror movie convention of a damsel in distress. It’s not just the look of it, with Fellini-esque characters threading through, or the feel of it, replete with an unearthly, palpable tension that never lets up.
It’s all of the above. Making A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night one of the most unique films of 2014.
Rating on a scale of 5 hemo-“goblins” gone wild: 4.5
Initial Release Date (ltd): November 21, 2014; currently available on VOD and YouTube
Directed and Written by: Ana Lily Amirpour
Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh, Mozhan Marnò, Dominic Rains, Milad Eghbali
Running Time: 99 minutes
Here is the trailer: