A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Farsi-language neo-noir, feminist, dystopian, vampire, western, romance and horror effort that is as exceptional as it sounds.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Describing an oft-seen movie scenario, the title of Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature debut says it all: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. And yet, for a film that subverts its seemingly obvious set-up at every turn, the title also says nothing. The feature may be cloaked in evident darkness from start to finish, but damsels in distress, fearing for their lives and fleeing from frightening situations, is not what this beguiling movie is about. 

Indeed, the first beautifully shot black-and-white frames of the Farsi-language effort show not a lonesome lady but what appears to be a suave hero peering out from behind a wooden-paling fence. He swoops a slinking cat into his arms, and walks to the shiny Thunderbird he notes he worked 2,191 days to pay for; however his story doesn’t adhere to a standard arc, either. A swap of roles might seem apparent, yet there’s nothing crude or clumsy about how events unfold. In an effort that turns the usual seduction scene on its head in an unforgettable fashion, taunts a street urchin over his skateboard to establish a sleek source of menace, and toys with the notion of tragic lovers in a multitude of ways, little plays out as expected. 

Living in the ghost town-like confines of Bad City, the handsome man is Arash (Arash Marandi, Kunduz: The Incident at Hadji Ghafur), and the sheen of his stylish sunglasses and tussled hairstyle hides a more modest existence. He works as a gardener by day for a princess (Rome Shadanloo, The Cottage) in attitude and wealthy status, and endeavours to fend off drug dealer and pimp, Saeed (Dominic Rains, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), by night, the latter nipping at his heels over his father’s (Marshall Manesh, TV’s How I Met Your Mother) addictions. Then a black-clad, dark-lipped figure known only as The Girl (Sheila Vand, Argo) stumbles out of the nocturnal shadows and across all three individually, though their links are apparent. Both with and without her eyeteeth extended, her bewitching presence ensnares, scares and saves in turn. 

An expanded version of Amirpour’s 2011 short film of the same name, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is playful and poetic within its premise within its pristine, monochrome sights. This is a film that earns the descriptors of neo-noir, feminist, dystopian, western, romance, vampire and horror, and lives up to the promise of each and every one. The inky colour scheme, the gender reversal, the bleakness, the American iconography, the tender love story, the brutal bloodsucking and the prevailing mood of menace: all come to finessed fruition. Everything is enhanced by the movie’s striking aesthetic of lingering, slow-moving long shots and lovingly static close-ups, accompanied by an atmospheric score and eclectic soundtrack of Middle Eastern guitar ballads mixed with 1980’s pop, and enlivened with enigmatic performances and an affectionate sense of humour.

Any one its dreamlike scenes could be employed to exemplify the skilful manner in which the writer/director weaves together what could have been competing, clashing elements in other hands. Her singular vision is the unifying force, alongside an enthralling story of emotions, and an unwavering commitment to never tracing the blatant route. Consider the concept – and the carefully constructed image that results – of a chador-wearing force spied on a desolate, night-time streetscape, unnerving the villainous Saeed mid personal encounter with a prostitute (Mozhan Marnò, TV’s The Blacklist) being treated poorly. Contemplate the notion of the feature’s only true innocent, Arash, meeting The Girl after snubbing the princess and while wandering lost, dressed for a costume party as Dracula. Amidst the many wanderings of people and problems, add an omnipresent cat as another symbol of quiet, lurking power and possibility.

A wealth of other efforts bear recollection in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, all stemming from the requisite types and tropes the film so successfully combines. The echoes are many, and not just from clear sources, channelling everything from the sultry yearning The Hunger to the western-leanings of Near Dark, and including the lovers-on-the-run of Badlands, the comic book stylisation of Sin City, the surrealist bent of David Lynch’s entire catalogue and the statements inherent in the spaghetti western genre. And yet, the film suffers not from its assembly of inspirations, creating something cognisant but unique in its ever-textured, widescreen-canvassed, rhythmic and ravishing allure. Genre mash-ups are rarely as gorgeous or great as this spellbinding spin on the foreboding that refreshingly reinvents the familiar.

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
USA, 2014, 99 mins

Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival
29 November – 14 December

Australian Centre for the Moving Image
27 December – 26 January

Sarah Ward

Thursday 4 December, 2014

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay