A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday January 27, 2015

Sheila Vand stars in 'A Girl Walks Home at Night Alone'
Sheila Vand stars in 'A Girl Walks Home at Night Alone'  (Source:Kino Lorber)

There's a scene in Ana Lily Amirpour's vampire romance drama "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" in which a young man named Arash (Arash Marandi), on his way home after a costume party and dressed as Dracula, confronts a real vampire -- a harmless looking young woman known simply as The Girl (Sheila Vand). Addled on ecstasy, Arash says, "I'm lost. Where are we?"

"Bad City," The Girl replies.

She's pegged the place with those two words. Dressed like any other Iranian woman (this is an American production, but set in Iran, with Persian dialogue), The Girl haunts Bad City like an Avenging Angel -- or maybe she's simply one of its darker shadows. But Arash is no angel himself. He dresses like a James Dean wannabe and, when the drug dealer who's been driving his father into debt turns up dead, Arash takes over the business after discovering a suitcase full of drugs and bank notes.

Whatever The Girl's goals, she seems to have a particular dislike for male misbehavior. Rough pimps get theirs quite literally in the neck, and wayward little boys receive stern warnings seemingly meant to scare them into lives of virtue. What will The Girl make of Arash? "You're so cold," he says, after taking her hand. Drawing her under his cape to keep her warm, he holds her close -- and her dangerous demeanor softens.

The romance begins only after we've seen enough of each of these two to appreciate who they are in their native elements. She lives in a dumpy place and dances by herself to old vinyl records. He flirts with Shaydah (Rome Shadanloo), the daughter of a rich family who employ him as a gardener. Is he going to surrender to her advances and become her boy toy? Or will he stop at swiping her jewels to try to buy his muscle car back from his dad's pusher? Will she chomp him, or has love put the bite on them both?

Like a darker, funnier, Spaghetti Western version of "Let the Right One In" (or a Goth take on Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive"), this is a film about two very flawed -- and, as noted, very lost -- souls. But are they soulmates?

Their mating dance is fraught with all the usual tension, and then some. Lyle Vincent makes the most of the choice to shoot the film in black and white, his compositions as shaded as charcoal drawings. Striking images abound, and they deliberately evoke iconic vampire tropes: The Girls' shawl resembles a cape as she pounces on her victims, or -- in a lovely touch -- glides down the street on a skateboard. At one juncture, a dissolve from a close-up of dope cooking in a spoon to a spinning LP all but summons the specter of David Lynch. Surfaces seem to contain underlying mysteries only barely, and a lonely, Halloween-ish mood permeates the film. If its ending feels challenging (maybe even controversial), that's all the more reason to have hewn to a midnight (and mid-20th century) look.

There is every opportunity, and every reason, to read a sheaf of social comments into "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night." But that's not what will draw an audience -- probably a small audience, but also, probably, a devoted one, for this has all the trappings of a cult favorite. Now, what will command, and keep, the loyalty of its fans is simply this: "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" is flat-out sensational.

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Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.