Film is, by necessity, an incredibly visual medium for storytelling. Unlike, say, a novel, a film can tell an entire story without uttering a single word. An entire plot can unfold, complex emotions can be communicated, all with a simple look exchanged. A longing glance at a sunset can be a happy moment, but when played back with the right song, it can have a much more sinister meaning. Film itself has its own self-contained language…a camera’s perspective can represent a narrator, or an unseen person in the room. The viewer can be an invisible participant—or a passive fly on the wall.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a movie so confident in itself that its existence almost serves as a sort of master class, or introduction to filmmaking technique itself. Very few films in existence can so comfortably rely on visual methods to tell a story without feeling necessary to resort to ham-fisted dialogue between two characters to pump out a steady stream of exposition. Other films might have felt it necessary to include a flashback montage to explain the plot to us, but with very little dialogue and action that progresses the story, it’s clear to us without ever having anything hammered over our heads.
Arash (played by Arash Marandi) has a heroin junky for a father who is in debt the local drug dealer. The drug dealer takes Arash’s car as partial payment for his father’s delinquent debts. When Arash goes to confront the drug dealer with a pair of earrings that he stole in hopes to get his wheels back, he discovers the drug dealer’s corpse—killed an exsanguinated by a vampire (a nameless character played by Sheila Vand).
Through fate—and by simply living in such a small town; “Bad City” seems to have a maximum population of about 20, at most—Arash and the Vampire meet. And they fall in awkward, young love. Their dates consist of listening to music, talking about music, talking about hamburgers and trying to find ways to tell each other that they like each other.
Arash and the Vampire have both done things that they find reprehensible to themselves and feel a deep guilt. Arash has not ever killed anyone, like the Vampire has, but they share guilt in common and it forges a bond between the two.
Ana Lily Amirpour proves herself as a masterful filmmaker here. She creates the world that A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night in as this surreal existence, somewhere in between horror and romance, living on the outskirts of a Spaghetti Western, somewhere with view of a piece of property that would be proudly owned by Fellini, rife with American pop culture references. The movie never contradicts itself with romance or humor skimming on the top surface of its horror: It simply juggles different genres effortlessly and can be terrifying, sweet and laugh-out-loud funny as effortlessly as flipping on a light switch.
Though not a perfect movie (it does tend to drag on a bit here and there and sometimes there can be an overreliance on slow-motion), it delivers on the most important things that make a film great fun to watch in the first place. The direction is top-notch; the black & white cinematography is some of the most stunning stuff you’re going to see all this year; the two leads are capable, attractive and fun to watch; the musical score and soundtrack are superb.
There is not much of an actual story to speak of in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Instead, it’s more like a series of vignettes, all beautifully shot and starring the same characters as before. Some of the vignettes are funny, some of them are romantic, and some of them are scary. While a few don’t land, the majority of them do and, from beginning to end, it’s always engaging to watch.
It’s a shame that an Academy Award category for animal performances does not exist, because Masuka the cat is going to be the next Meryl Streep.
If none of this sounds interesting to you, at least you can tell people you went out of your way to watch a woman-directed Iranian vampire flick.
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