Careful Where You Walk
by Chloe DeFilippis
Let me first confess, I’m no film buff. Sure I like movies as much as the next person, but experiencing them is much more visceral than it is academic. And yet, here I am about to obsess over a film like a prepubescent boy…and I can obsess with the best of ’em. This is why my instant attraction to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is not that surprising. Let me explain. To start, this movie contains all the elements that have been near and dear to my heart for years: noir romance, spaghetti westerns, and vampires. An odd trio, I know. But rather than create a film of overkill and cliché, writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour reinvigorates a tired genre with smooth direction and meticulous craft. Shot in unassuming black and white, A Girl Walks… is quiet and poetic. Scenes are stitched together musically and slide with grace and purpose. It’s dreamlike, even catlike – a marriage of otherworldliness.
Bad City, the film’s fictional Middle-Eastern setting, embodies that otherworldliness. This Iranian ghost town is filled with melancholy and macabre; where passing by a pit of dead bodies is as normal as walking by an abandoned parking lot. It’s a city that’s as familiar to its viewers as it is foreign, seemingly existing in its own unspecified time and place (similar to Frank Miller’s Sin City but without all the flair). This is the home of our chador-wearing vampire heroine, known simply as The Girl. Played by the striking Sheila Vand, we meet The Girl at a crossroads in her life: young enough to adorn the walls of her room with posters of pop icons but old (or ancient) enough to have lost all social skills. We see her creature-like behavior manifested in the way she stares, wide-eyed and fixed, at the people she is about to prey on. How she moves about with sharp, effortless precision – premeditated and confident. But despite all her bloody calculations, there’s a distinct humanness, or desire to be human, about her. She puts on makeup (without a mirror!), she dances alone in her room, she feels real emotions like sadness, rage, and yes, even love.
The story on the surface is about a young man named Arash who struggles to care for his drug-addicted father while at the same time trying to find love in his own life. His father’s condition has reached a nadir so low that he relies on Arash to settle his debts with the drug-dealing pimp Saeed (Dominic Rains), who is everything you love and hate about small-time thugs rolled into one heavily tattooed package. Saeed, acting as judge and jury, decides to take Arash’s vintage car as collateral for debts unpaid. This leaves Arash even more despondent, though, this hatred will eventually lead Arash and The Girl to cross paths. It’s in this crossroads that A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night exists, propping itself up by that tension. This could be an easy qualm for some audiences. The movie’s pace is slow and without a lot of dialogue (the few conversations that happen are in Farsi no less). A Girl Walks… doesn’t just linger in these moments; it keeps its feet steadily planted there. This is what I love about the film. Growing up in the internet age, I’m accustomed to the fast and the fleeting. We open and close websites, send emails, and text with two clicks or less. Although dreary, Bad City is stimulating in that it seems to slow down time to the essential building blocks that comprise the best moments in life.
Amirpour is a director who knows what she likes and doesn’t give two minds about showing it off. As a woman, I find this totally refreshing; to the point where I sought out every interview with her that I could find so that I could familiarize myself with her influences. If you have even the slightest of interest in film and music (who doesn’t?), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night will be a fun “Where’s Waldo” exercise for you to pick out the various nods to pop culture iconography she has sprinkled throughout her project. But even if you don’t, this movie serves as a pleasurable coming-of-age film disguised as a somber horror flick, and who doesn’t love those?