Striking visuals and a wicked sense of style are just enough to carry this enigmatic, at times frustrating Iranian-American vampire story.
Director Ana Lily Amirpour’s black and white neo-noir debut is a dream-like collection of ideas and images rather than a coherent whole. It’s loosely evocative of many things – Bela Lugosi movies, James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, spaghetti westerns, the 1980s – but exactly why is unclear.
It takes place in Bad City, a fictional Iranian oil-town where nobody seems to notice the mounting piles of bodies. Large swathes of the film simply follow the titular character – an indie-music loving vampire in a billowing, cape-like chador and Breton stripe T-shirt – as she stalks the streets at night. Her stark white face, framed by the pitch-black chador, is a striking image that Amirpour never tires of showing us.
She takes a shine to Arash, a down-on-his-luck young man who dresses like James Dean and drives an American muscle-car. In the movie’s stand-out scene, she brings him back to her tiny, poster-decorated flat to play him records while he dances under a tiny disco ball. Their almost silent exchange (the film’s limited dialogue is in Farsi, although it was filmed in California) is filled with an immediacy and intensity that’s lacking from much of the film. At first you wonder whether her motives might be malign, but she’s a good feminist vampire who tends to target men who abuse women.
Obligatory parallels are drawn between vampirism and various social problems – addiction (Arash’s father is a heroin addict), environmental and human exploitation – but they’re secondary to the general theme of being lost and alone and looking for someone to cling to. There are comparisons to be made with Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut Lost River, in that it’s a film with a surfeit of ideas that wears its inspirations – not least David Lynch – on its sleeve. A Girl Walks Home Alone is better, though, an intriguing, ethereal start to a promising career.
First published in City A.M.