Film review: A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, from Built For Speed

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the impressive feature-length directorial debut for Iranian/ American film maker Ana Lily Amirpour.  This creepy, atmospheric genre mash-up references film noir, modern Iranian cinema, westerns, feminism and romance in its strange story of a female vampire preying on victims in the fictitious Iranian industrial town of Bad City.

Sheila Vand stars as the mysterious woman known only as ‘the girl’ who cruises around Bad City on a skateboard clad in a billowing cloak or chador and a striped top like the ones worn by members of the Velvet Underground. She is a vampire of unknown origin who feeds on unsuspecting dopes and men who have mistreated women. When she encounters the troubled but good-hearted Arash (the brooding James Dean-like Arash Miranda), she has to deal with the unusual  and disconcerting emotion of love.

This film is more an exercise in style and atmospherics than robust or compelling story telling and while the plot’s thinness is a problem, Amirpour’s ability to conjure a strange, moody alternative reality more than compensates.  Aided by Kyle Vincent’s superb black and white cinematography the film recalls the startling look of 1940’s noir and Jacques Tournier’s unnerving I Walk with a Zombie. The film also benefits from wonderfully effective use of music as scenes are punctuated with quirky accordion, spaghetti western trumpet blasts, an ominous orchestral score, 80’s euro pop and skittering industrial sounds. This film is so impressive as cinematic art and as a mood piece that the horror elements and neck bitings look a little cheesy and comical by comparison.

While this film feels original it still evokes memories of previous movies including Jim Jarmusch’s off-kilter satires of 80’s American suburbia, the masterful Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In and the wonderfully eerie Scarlett Johansson film Under The Skin.  There’s even a cat in this film that seems to have taken acting lessons from the cat in Alien.  Also, a scene of romantic seduction in which Arash and ‘The Girl’ tentatively approach each other to the strains of 80’s synth pop could have come straight from a John Hughes film.

Despite having only a few words of dialogue Sheila Vand is terrific.  She shifts effortlessly from intensely sinister to, vulnerable and even alluring.   A kind of feminist avenger she is mostly heroic but she’s also capable of unsettling violence and in a very creepy scene she even terrorises an innocent child.  While not quite as memorable, Arash Miranda also impresses as the rebellious love interest.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night  is hampered by limited narrative (a legacy of this movie’s short film origins), some underdeveloped characters and  a few slow scenes but its mesmerising strangeness, superb use of music, flashes of humour, terrific central performance from Vanda and unnerving dystopian feel leave a deep impression.

Nick’s rating: ****.

Genre: Horror/ drama/ romance.

Classification: MA15+ .

Director(s): Ana Lily Amirpour.

Release date: 19th Feb 2015.

Running time: 99 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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