Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour‘s debut feature, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, is an amalgam of stylistic influences, including—but certainly not limited to—spaghetti westerns, ’50s teenage movies, atmospheric horror films, and ’80s Jim Jarmusch. For this reason, she is being called “the next Tarantino,” but a more fitting comparison may be to another, younger auteur: Xavier Dolan, whose films share Amirpour’s hip aesthetic and clear affection for beautiful scenes of slow motion set to pop songs.
The film begins with Arash (Arash Marandi), a handsome gardener, leaning against a ’57 convertible in sunglasses, doing his best Martin Sheen in Badlands; like Malick’s character, he will soon become entangled in a doomed romance. His father, Hossein (Marshall Manesh), is a heroin addict who owes debt to a vicious, macho drug dealer/pimp named Saheed (Dominic Rains), and who, when not high, suffers from psychotic withdrawal episodes. Atti (Mozhan Marnò), one of Saheed’s prostitutes, is a favorite girl of Hossein’s, and is regularly abused, physically and emotionally, by both men. Amirpour’s movie is all set in the fictional suburbs of Bad City, Iran, an eerie ghost town haunted by The Girl (an excellent Sheila Vand), a young vampire who finds her way into this miserable circle of people. Although the film is billed as “the first Iranian vampire spaghetti western,” it is a love story above anything else—one that opts to supplant plot development with romantic ambiance.
And Amirpour’s film, as with Dolan and sometimes Jarmusch, is a testament to how far pure atmosphere can go in the right hands. One such example: Arash, wandering the streets in an ecstasy-fueled daze, meets The Girl out on a darkened street, and rather than tearing his flesh apart she takes him back to her house and fires up White Lies’ “Death” on her record player. Arash, in one of the film’s many uses of slo-mo, moves in behind The Girl, who gradually turns to him and sensuously touches his neck, pondering a bite. It is a simple scene, yet aided by the music and Lyle Vincent’s gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, it becomes menacing, erotic and tactile—three descriptors, in fact, that could be easily applied to a number of moments in the film.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is an impressive debut, made by someone with a clear vision and a wealth of genre movie knowledge. With few exceptions, it is a vampire tale much more sensual than scary.
Catch A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox starting January 23rd.