By Emma Silverthorn @HouseOf_Gazelle
Referred to only as The Girl: here is a heroine you can root for, a vigilante, feminist, vampire with excellent taste in music plus skateboarding ability, yes please! Not that this heroine is overtly kick-ass; she’s a quiet, lonely soul but if anything this makes her even more appealing. Even the basic fact of seeing a female, (and a vulnerable looking female at that), stalking the streets at night (as opposed to being stalked), was in itself satisfying. Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature length debut is a wonderful mix of genres and references yet simultaneously-and perhaps because of this eclectic blending-unlike anything I’d seen before. As the tagline goes this is the first Iranian Vampire Western and thank goodness it’s here. I didn’t know this is what I was waiting for but it’s certainly filled a strange hole in my life.
The action takes place in the vice-ridden, desolate Iranian town of Bad City (actually shot in an deserted Californian oil town) where The Girl (Shelia Vand) moves stealthily around gliding in full chador, or else on skateboard, targeting the cities worst inhabitants. The chador of course serves as a vampires cape and adds to the films uncanny tone yet this Girl seems to be a very secular kind of vampire and the question as to why she wears this traditional covering hovers. Other comments on the middle-east can be found in the ever-growing pit of bodies at the towns outskirts that no one seems especially bothered about.
Vampires are regularly cast as lonely, tortured by their own, often unwanted but compulsory, blood-lust, and this is true of The Girl to an extent and yet there’s something different about the way she operates. There’s a bloody kind of justice in her choices of prey; it’s the abusers and predators that get bit. She even practices a terrifying version of moral education for The Little Boy of the town (Milad Eghbali).
Plus The Girl is uber cool; this is a Vice Film after all. An early scene of her dancing alone in her room to Farah in her Breton striped top is just gorgeous. And soundtrack is absolutely key to this film, the music often leading the action as well as setting the scenes vibe. I’ve been listening to it on repeat since the screening. Unsurprisingly the director was in a rock band for many years and loves to DJ.
To add to all this coolness The Persian James Dean aka Arash Marandi, (thought I was the first one to notice the similarity but the press notes had already declared him thus), plays love interest to The Girl, as one of the few (only?) good men left in Bad City. Watching him and Vand on screen together is a beautiful, mesmerising thing. Watching Dominic Rains who plays the cities Pimp on the other hand, is an at turns intimidating and hilarious experience. Misogynistic, bullying and presenting a constant undercurrent of threat, The Pimp, is yet ripe for ridicule. One of the funniest scenes is of him coked-up, pumping dumbbells in his animal print and leather-clad pad trying to impress Vand with his dance moves.
The other great source of humour here comes from Masuka The Cat, stray, then pet to Marandi, and later Vand. His massive saucer eyes are always there watching, judging, freaking the characters out; particularly good guy Marandi’s, heroin withdrawn father, The Gambler, (played by Marshall Manesh). The Cat diffuses and layers other moments of tension too, particularly the closing car scene. Are we perhaps in the Golden Age of cats on film? With every hipsters perfect accessory being a fluffy ball of feline, a la Llweyn Davis’ cat and Fluffy the cat in Listen up Philip!
To quote the director herself this film is: ‘like Sergio Leone and David Lynch had an Iranian rock ‘n’ roll baby, and then Nosferatu came and babysat for them’. Sound good? I think so. It’s sure to get a cult following and hopefully a wider one too. (For the cult followers check out the graphic novel by Amirpour inspired by the film and detailing The Girls’ back story.) Nine out of ten; not too shabby for a debut!
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is in cinemas from this Friday, May 22nd.