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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Review: A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Ana Lily Amirpour, writer/director of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, has crafted a cinephile's wet dream of a film, with all the relaxed cool of Jim Jarmusch, stylistic cues from Sergio Leone, and a chilling use of black-and-white photography and occasionally oppressive sound design reminiscent of early David Lynch. But the movie isn't just a game of spot the influence, though in its weakest moment it can feel like it is; blame its reliance on American indie movie tropes, something only its unique point-of-view and Amirpour's formal talents save it from. Ultimately, Amirpour's film is classic horror-romance, a low-key blending of the two genres made fresh by its attention to crafting a setting that half-feels like a pit stop on the road to Hell. Bad City, the fictional Iranian oil town, seems mostly dead from its opening seconds, a ghost town with a ravine full of decomposing corpses just off the side of the road. The Girl, the movie's vampiric killer, fits in better than most of the movie's living characters.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a movie of moments. Most moments work; some moments do not. But when it works, it works well, and it gave me one of my single favorite horror scenes in years, as The Girl stalks a young boy through the streets of the town. It is there that the movie's unpredictable rhythms and Sheila Vand's hypnotic menace stand out the most in a scene that rivals anything American horror has given me in the last year or two. The movie only sporadically goes for unbearable tension, typically foregrounding a hip, restrained melancholy, but Amirpour has a talent for taking things from zero to sixty in a heartbeat. While not everything works as well as the horror elements - including a small drug addiction side plot that's laughably broad - Vand and her chemistry with male lead grounds the movie.

The story is simple. Poor landscaper Arash (Marandi) is sick of being bullied by Bad City's local gangster Saeed (Dominic Rains), who took Arash's prized car to pay for his father's (Marshall Manesh) drug habit. But when Arash shows up to pay off the debt and reclaim his car, he finds the gangster brutally murdered. He steals his drugs and sets himself up as the new dealer in town, befriending a mysterious chador-clad young woman he meets on the street. Little does his know, this woman (Vand) is The Girl, a vampire who hunts and hurts bad men throughout their city, with a body count that's only getting higher.

While the movie's performances are not its selling point - with one exception - they are typically solid, though the supporting cast has one or two rough spots. Arash Marandi is channeling the working-class cool of James Dean, often clad in a leather jacket or a simple white tee, but his best work is anxious or comedic. His first encounter with The Girl, for example, comes when he is high on ecstasy and dressed like Dracula, confusedly wandering the streets, and Marandi shines as the goofy innocent there. But it is Sheila Vand, The Girl herself, who controls the movie, a playfully dangerous figure on the streets with a hipster pop culture fanatic abode to retire to. Vand's role is largely dialogue free, but she makes the most of every moment she's on the screen.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is meditative but chilling, the grimmer counterpart to Jim Jarmusch's fantastic Only Lovers Left Alive. Like Jarmusch's film, Amirpour is more concerned with mood, with style, than with creating narrative drive in the traditional sense. Thankfully, style is something Amirpour isn't short on; the film is full to bursting with eye-catching shots and moments of uncomfortable intensity. Part horror, part romance, part Western, part indie, and all goddamn cool, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is not without flaws - as that jampacked description may suggest - but Ana Lily Amirpour's film has a relaxed confidence that holds it all together.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is out now in limited theaters across the nation, and will arrive at Atlanta's Midtown Art Cinema on Friday, February 13th. Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night stars Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, and Marshall Manesh.
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