In an Iranian ghost town, a lone vampire stalks through the night, preying on its inhabitants.
Ana Lily Amirpour’s Persian-language directorial debut, follows The Girl (Sheila Vand), a lonely vampire who haunts the streets of Bad City in search of her prey. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night relies on stark, dark atmosphere (leaning heavily on black and white aesthetic in the process) to tell a very human story. This spare film is maybe a bit too long for its own good, but its got memorable, unique characters with whom the audience can readily relate.
Bad City is a strange and empty place, filled with the worst of humanity and a touch of innocence. Almost no one we meet is untainted by the harsh reality of the world, the vices that it brings with it. Arash (Arash Marandi) is a wannabe greaser, with tight jeans, white T-shirts (matching rolled up sleeves), slicked-back hair, and a 1957 Ford Thunderbird as his pride and joy. His father, Hossein (Marshall Maneet–Ranjeet from How I Met Your Mother), is a junkie, picking up prostitutes and shooting up heroin as often as possible. Because of Hossein’s habit, Arash finds himself on the hook with Saeed (Dominic Rains), a drug dealer and pimp. Atti (Mozhan Marnò), plays a prostitute being tormented by the men around her, particularly Saeed and Hossein. Alongside this group is The Street Urchin (Milad Eghbali), a young boy who remains on the periphery, witnessing the stories of these people living their lives, just as The Girl stalks them and interacts with each in turn.
Rather than a complete narrative–what we’re given is quite thin–Amirpour composes what feels more like a series of interconnected vignettes. We follow the girl as she flits through the night, almost floating along the streets of Bad City (I actually wish that Amirpour had decided to remove the sounds of her footsteps, making her slightly more ethereal). She listens to music, dancing with herself at night; her posters are covered in 80s nostalgia paraphernalia, and I get the sense that she’s not spending her nights hunting for prey (though she finds that). Instead, she’s searching for companionship and happens to find prey, settling for that when people disappoint her.
Each citizen of Bad City meets The Girl in turn, and she spares or helps them as she sees fitting. A love story begins to brew, people are chastised for their decisions and life-choices, bonds form. The Girl, titularly described as alone, isn’t so. She flits in and out of others’ stories as she has probably walked through her elongated, lonely existence.
I’ve not seen the short film upon which A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is based, but it was strong enough to spark a crowdfunding campaign. The problem is that it’s almost always apparent when a short film is stretched to feature length. It should have been a tighter 85 or 90 minutes, rather than the elongated 101. In this case, it’s just as painfully obvious: there are long stretches of silence and stillness. Instead of feeling atmospheric, that often feels awkward, slightly self-indulgent, or worse, boring.
That being said, most of this film plays nicely alongside genre lines, often looking straight at those lines and knowing they’re being a bit corny, to great effect (Arash dresses up as Dracula just before meeting a vampire in real life, and he almost looks straight at the camera and says, “I know what I’m doing. Let it happen”). All in all, it’s a perfectly respectable, if overlong, vampire film.