Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour
Cinematographer: Lyle Vincent
Producer: Justin Begnaud and Sina Sayya
by Jon Cvack
The best description I heard of this film was David Lynch meets Jim Jarmusch. I’d add Bela Tarr in there and it’s a near perfect comparison. It’s both bizarre and cool and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. There is a movement of art house horror films that I’ve often discussed - It Follows (2014), They Came at Night (2013), Us (2019), Hereditary (2018), and The VVitch (2015) all have taken the genre and applied it to high craft. And yet A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is different; existing on a strange bridge where it could go either way; there are just as many humanistic moments as there are frightening - to the point where even categorizing them in specific ways can create its own mistake.
Ana Lily Amirpour is a filmmaker that embodies the old school way of making it to features; directing over half a dozen short films before finally making the short of A Girl Walks Alone at Night which then screened at Sundance and led her to make the features. Her shorts alone should pique interest, sounding as though a filmmaker experimenting and slowly developing their voice.
The story opens up with Arash who exits from his new expensive car where a local teenager stands in awe and Arash explains how much he had to work to save up for it; a hardworking handyman who takes care of his heroin addict father Hussein (Marshall Manesh) who’s racked up a huge debt with a local well tatted drug dealer Saeed (Dominic Rains). Saeed visits to collect from Arash who offers his car in exchange for sparing his father’s life.
Arash is currently on the job in a wealthy estate, left alone with the Super Hot Clubber daughter Shaydah (Rome Shadanloo) who’s parents are out of town. She invites Arash up to help with repairs and lays on the bed, asking if he could fix the door frame. He turns her down and she leaves and grabs some of her expensive jewelry from the dresser.
That night, Saeed heads out to collect money from a local prostitute, Atti (Mozhan Marnò) who drives off with Saeed into the middle of a park where she begins to lick his finger and proceed to fellate him. Saeed then sees “The Girl” (aka vampire; Sheila Vand) standing in the field. When he turns, she’s gone and pushes Atti away, accusing her of being short and demanding she keep working. He heads back home and does a few lines of blow before Atti appears. She sucks his finger, then bites it off before chewing his neck and killing him.
Great films pique your interest from its very first frame; somehow providing the indescribable feeling of high art. The best films take that initial impression and grow it scene by scene; where it’s not about experiencing an immediate style, but slowly discovering an entirely new voice. Before Saeed is murdered we get the first of a series of eerily beautiful slo mo dance sequences - where diegetic music kicks in and the characters move the rhythm. Saeed in this case dances to Bei Ru in a long and extended sequence, showing off his tattooed body to Atti, clearly jacked up on blow before Atti butchers him. It’s a scene that harkens back to my initial point - equal parts funny, badass, and horrifying, transcending the genre.
Arash then arrives, hoping to offer the earrings for the car and bumps into Atti as she leaves. He heads inside, finding Saeed dead. Arash grabs his keys and then Saeed’s money and drugs where he then turns to dealing his score and quitting his job at Shaydah’s. Later, Arash goes to the club where Shaydah buys some ecstasy off him, then gets him to take a pill himself. He gets high and he watches Shaydah seemingly dance for him; getting him horny enough to then make a move for her to back away and her boyfriend to return.
Arash then leaves, high out of his mind, wandering the streets and soon meeting up with Atti who appears nearly to kill him until he hugs her gently and the two return to her place. They end up back at Atti’s apartment which is covered in music posters and she puts on White Lies “Death” and provides one of the coolest moments of the film. The song is so great and so catchy and so odd for the scene; especially as the camera holds in wide as Arash slowly works his way over to Atti who stares down at the record player. Close to the entire five minute track plays out, and the characters undergo a range of emotions; starting awkward and moving into attraction, from sensual into murderous desire. I’ve listened to this song multiple times while writing this and all the more in awe. I would’ve never imagined the pairing. It’s neither fitting or ironic and yet somehow, compared with the images, it’s a perfect blend.
Withdrawing from heroin, Hussein erupts into a violent rage, trashing their apartment and Arash kicks him out; giving him the cat and the remainder of Saeed’s money. Hussein buys some bags and heads over to Atti who offers to dance but who instead succumbs to Hussein’s heroin seduction. The Girl then appears and kills Hussein and her and Atti dispose the body; keeping the cat. Arash later finds the body and heads to The Girl’s apartment in anguish; soon discovering Hussein’s cat. In a final long take, the camera holds as the cat crawls between them and sits on the seat; Arash considers staying and returning to his former life and joining The Girl on the road; ending in classic horror fashion with a bit of The Graduate, open with the possibility of a sequel.
The film has remained with me for the last few days since finishing. I was most surprised to discover that although entirely in Persian, the film was shot in Kern Valley, California (represented by vehement Trump ally Devon Nunes, if that helps you picture the type of country). At no point did I question whether or not this was filmed in Iran. It goes to demonstrate the phenomenal skill Anna Lily Anapour. Not since It Follows, has a director lent such a unique perspective to horror.
It’s difficult to even assign category or label to what makes the film work; the extended music scenes could so easily have been pretentious; the vampire could so easily have come across as some comic book movie anti-hero; the style could have grown exhausting. And yet each moment felt completely unique and truthful. It’s horror, crime, art house moral tale, and so much else. She’s the type of storyteller where you want to immediately want to watch everything she’s done; to see how she approaches other genres and characters. With a couple more features on the horizon, It’s one of the most exciting debut feature films I’ve seen in a long time.
BELOW: Simple and powerful and a great groove
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