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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

September 20, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Iranian Vampire Western pleases audiences with perplexing horror

"A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night"

Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour

A lascivious pimp roams the darkened streets only to realize that a chador-clad young woman (Sheila Vand) is following his every move. Believing her to be a prostitute, the pimp brings the girl to his ostentatious apartment for a late-night fellatio session only to watch in horror as she proceeds to sprout fangs, bite his finger off and subsequently drain him of his blood. It quickly becomes apparent that this mysterious young individual is neither a virginal beauty nor a lady of the evening but a creature of the night.

In her feature directorial debut, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” Iranian-American actress, writer and producer Ana Lily Amirpour creates a story that successfully merges teen romance with Spaghetti Western, a subgenre of the Western film involving a heavy use of violence and flawed characters and puts a more realistic spin on the depiction of vampires.

Set in the fictitious metropolis of Bad City, a place teeming with both crime and corruption, the film stars Arash Marandi as teenage handyman Arash, who juggles caring for his junkie father Hossein (Marshall Manesh) and working menial jobs in order to pay back his father’s growing debt to oppressive local loan shark Saeed (Dominic Rains). When Arash finds himself forced to give up his new Ford Thunderbird as payment, his attempt to exact vengeance ends with him covering up a murder and meeting the girl responsible for the gruesome crime. Little do they know they are about to embark on a journey that threatens to test their newfound friendship in ways they never imagined.

Although the setup is eerily similar to the archetypal platform for an unlikely couple romance film, such as the Disney animated feature film “Beauty and the Beast,” “A Girl Walks Home Alone” presents itself to audience members as a story of finding love in a harsh, unforgiving environment. Due to the minimalist script, Amirpour leaves the task of augmenting the main plot to Vand and Marandi, whose superb chemistry keeps the story going down to the film’s harrowing final sequence. Vand and Marandi also captivate audiences with their exemplary acting skills, which is asserted when their characters meet following a drug-fueled costume party.

In addition to exploring the main characters and their tumultuous, passion-filled relationship, Amirpour allows the audience to look into the lives of Bad City’s other residents: a street kid who is threatened into being “a good boy,” an aging prostitute who yearns to see the rest of world, an heiress recovering from cosmetic surgery and an unnamed drag queen who, in a sequence evoking the style of Italian director Federico Fellini, dances in a vacant lot with a balloon. Much like Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty” and the Dardennes’ “Two Days, One Night,” the supporting cast contributes to the plot rather than detract from it.

Perhaps the film’s most compelling force is Bad City itself, a forsaken urban jungle where oil derricks are always in motion, streets are cluttered with power lines and ditches are used as dumping grounds. The California oil town of Taft, which serves as the backdrop for Bad City, is the perfect setting for a movie such as this due to the fact that it induces a sense of dread that serves as a fitting environment for the sinister subject matter.

The film’s score, which primarily consists of ’80s new wave songs, gives “A Girl Walks Home Alone” a nostalgic feel because it transports audiences to a time when people were unable to imagine social media. Although this so-called effect quickly grows tedious, each song is used with purpose and heightens every last scene from beginning to end. The most impressive of these musical moments can be found near the end of the first act, where the Girl covers her face in mascara and lipstick while dancing around her apartment, an image that makes it as though she is a character straight out of a French new wave film.

In all, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” proves to be just as masterful as any dramatic film. It manages to exceed all expectations with both a stellar cast and an exciting story, revealing what can be best described as a tale that lovers of cinema deserve to experience.