Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Ana Lily Armipour
Stars: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Dominic Rains, Marshall Manesh, Milad Eghbali, Mozhan Marno.
Not only is this an intriguing title, but it is pretty much a synopsis of this quirky, ultra low budget horror film from Iran, of all places. It is the first vampire film from Iran, and it is pretty much unlike any other Iranian film you will have ever seen. First time feature film director Ana Lily Armipour cleverly subverts the usual tropes of the vampire/horror genre, giving us a peculiarly feminist take on the formula.
This is an extension of Iranian filmmaker Armipour’s 2011 short film of the same name, and is also based on her graphic novel Death Is The Answer.
The film is set in the aptly named Bad City, a bleak urban setting that could well be a suburb of Sin City. A Goth-like skateboarding vampire (played by Sheila Vand), dressed in black and wearing a hijab, prowls the streets of the city at night, preying on lost souls and mostly villainous men who deserve their fate. This is about as close as Armipour gets to making a political comment on the patriarchal nature of her native country. Nonetheless, the film is purportedly set in Iran and the characters speak Farsi.
The vampire crosses paths with Arash (Iranian actor Arash Marandi), a troubled young man who is trying to cope with his drug addicted father who is also a hopeless gambler deeply in debt to a local gangster and pimp named Saeed (Dominic Rains, from Flight 93, etc). When Saeed takes Arash’s beloved vintage car as a down payment on his father’s debt, Arash sets out to get it back. It is at Saeed’s house that he first encounters the vampire. There is a strange romantic relationship that develops between Arash and the vampire, in which they listen to electro-pop and flirt. Like Jarmusch, Armipour deliberately uses music to create a specific mood.
The film also explores universal themes of loneliness, despair, teenage rebellion, adolescent angst, family, duty and love.
Marandi has a brooding James Dean-like quality about him that perfectly suits his character. Vand has a taciturn presence and a mysterious quality to her that also adds to the allure of her character.
Two other main characters that add to the flavour of the quirky film are Masuka, the cute cat that observes events and plays a prominent role in proceedings, and a street urchin (Milad Eghbali), who is also an observer of some dark and violent events.
But while it is nominally a horror film about a vampire feasting on humans, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is not bathed in buckets of blood or the usual frantic vampire hunts. Given the subtle eroticism and sexual imagery of the film and the content Armipour would not have been able to shoot the film in her native Iran, so she shot it in Taft, California, and its bleak, desolate industrial landscape and oil refineries form the perfect backdrop to this dark and moody film. The film has also evocatively been shot in luminous black and white by cinematographer Lyle Vincent, who captures some poetic and dreamlike images.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night has a dark and moody quality about it. The film was shot on a low budget, and sometimes the limitations show through in the staging and setting of certain key scenes. Armipour maintains a fairly languid pace throughout, and her deliberate pacing and enigmatic approach to her narrative may not suit all tastes. The film is largely expressionistic in style. There is minimal dialogue, and what there is is often delivered in bizarre, almost monotone fashion by the small cast. But Armipour manages to suffuse the dark material with some uncomfortable touches of black humour.
This is definitely a far cry from the twee Twilight series, as Armipour also adopts a rather unusual narrative style that may not appeal to everyone. The end result is a bit like The Hunger meets Sin City as directed by Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch, and is ultimately a triumph of style over substance. Fans of auteurs like Jarmusch and his early films in particular will probably enjoy the film more than those casual filmgoers drawn to it out of curiosity because of the glowing reviews it has attracted on the festival circuit.
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