SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2014
By Don Simpson | February 2, 2014
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour
Starring: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh, Mozhan Marnò, Dominic Rains, Rome Shadanloo, Milad Eghbali, Reza Sixo Safai, Pej Vahdat
As ominous as a nightmarishly nourish horror-western, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is set in the fictional Iranian town of Bad City. The crumbling industrial architecture and pumpjacks uglify the sparsely populated suburban town, signifying a potent stench of economic death; while the piles of dead bodies by the roadside are a pungent reminder of the high mortality rate of humans.
Populated primarily by drug-addled pimps and hookers, Bad City represents the dregs of humanity, scavengers scavenging to get by. Parasitically sucking the remaining drops of life from the scum of Bad City, a mysterious woman (Sheila Vand) clad in a ḥijāb-approved chādor that respectfully covers up her new wave style, cooly coasts around the dark streets on a skateboard. The personification of Iranian feminism, she devours misogynistic, socially-conservative men who expect women to be willingly subservient.
When she meets Arash (Arash Marandi), her female empowerment agenda is sent into a tailspin. Charmed with the beautiful elegance of the Farsi James Dean, Arash is one of the few inhabitants of Bad City who actually does some honest work. He may drive around town in a flashy vintage car, but Arash earned that vehicle working hard as a day laborer for the remaining bourgeois families who find themselves safely sequestered in a nice part of town. Despite splurging on his ride, Arash hopes to save up enough cash to eventually escape this hellhole, a plan that has been helplessly foiled by the insurmountable debt that his good-for-nothing junkie father (Marshall Manesh) owes to Saeed (Dominic Rains), the town’s most ruthless drug dealer and pimp. Presumably stunted by Arash’s hopeless situation, she innocently falls prey to his charming powers of seduction which overpower her vampiric bloodlust — in other words, love overcomes violence.
Shot in the style of a graphic novel, Lyle Vincent’s gorgeously high-contrast, black and white cinematography highlights the surreal atmosphere of this Iranian vampire romance. Languidly paced and utterly devoid of tension, writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night circumvents any kinship with the horror genre, relying quite heavily on its atmospheric mood to keep its audience transfixed. Even the film’s presumed gender politics are conveyed by way of softly blurred metaphors that drift dreamily in and out of the narrative.
Amirpour’s set design suggests a cutting critique of the Westernization of Iran, portraying Bad City as a cookie-cutter American suburb after a crippling economic collapse. Left drifting rudderless in the wake of the failure of Iranian Capitalism, Bad City is riddled with anarchism; only a skateboarding female vampire is granted with the ungodly power to punish the bad and allow the good to survive for yet another day.