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Sundance: This Girl Walks Alone Into Greatness

From the Sundance Film Festival here is Glenn on 'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night'

Despite the high profile of vampire movies in the past decade, very few of them have been strong enough to justify their budgets and mainstream success, let alone done enough to warrant any sort of long-term attention. Buffy the Vampire Slayer concluded in 2003 and since then TV series True Blood and The Vampire Diaries have attempted to pick up where Joss Whedon left off. On the big screen, however, the only vampire property to strike any form of sustained reverence is Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish take on vampire lore, Let the Right One In – and, depending on who you ask, the American remake, Let Me In, too – although I did enjoy the Spierig Brothers’ high-concept Daybreakers as well (I didn’t care for Stake Land, but I hear people like that one, too). So it’s not only a surprise, but a genuine delight to report that Ana Lily Amirpour’s stark beauty, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is not just a great movie, but should be considered an instant entry into the cannon of vampires on cinema.

With perhaps the most literal title of the festival, Amirpour’s American-made yet Iran-set film takes place in the fictional town of Bad City. A lawless wasteland of a location where a local pit is home to the rising number of dumped, abandoned corpses, and where thugs and pimps undertake their criminal enterprises in broad daylight. Oil drills chug and churn on the city outskirts sucking the land's resources even more than Bad City's low life residents, and a teenage boy takes advantage of a local drug dealer’s death by stealing his stash and moving in on his territory. Bad City, undoubtedly inspired at least in part by Sin City, is a town that both literally and figuratively is being drained of blood; where people don’t so much live and merely exist. It exists in a seemingly parallel world, a twilight zone of evil and it's the perfect place to go unnoticed. 

And with that enters The Girl, a resident of Bad City who (as the title suggests) walks the streets alone at night using her youthful sexuality and placid, emo coquette 'tude to attract and lure the putrid men that have taken over her home. As she skulks around in a striped tee and chadore that appears repurposed into a superhero cape, using a local kid’s abandoned skateboard to occasional comical effect, she meets Arash who is dressed Dracula and high on ecstasy after a fancy dress party. The two form a unique bond over electro synth-pop records and a growing unease with Bad City.

Filmed in some of the most vivid and richly detailed digital photography of I’ve ever seen, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night favours atmospherics, haunting compositions and smart juxtapositions as opposed to overt scares. The black and white photography was, for me, practically revelatory in the way its visuals were never once compromised by the format. With large parts of the screen drenched in deep blacks that the demise of celluloid has all but eliminated, Amirpour and cinematographer Lyle Vincent are able to evoke so much textural mood from the most simple of images. Her use of sound and music, too, which varies from synth pop to Iranian rock to the western-twanged tunes of Federale helps confirm this cinematic netherworld between America and Iran as a work of singular art.

That A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is directed by a woman only adds to its rather obvious feminist leanings that strike at the modern concept of an Iranian woman. But even more than that, Amirpour is able to lend her lonely, but dangerously adventurous lead, played by Sheila Vand, a unique sensitivity that flies in the face of so many vampire films. This is a special film, one inspired by but not beholden to comics, graphic novels and the films of David Lynch, in particular Eraserhead. Amirpour even wore a Lynch tee to the post-film Q&A! It’s a rare creature of a film, an ever-evolving and elastic one that people will be feasting their eyes on and discussing for years to come as one of the greatest and most hypnotically enthralling horror movies in some time. Like Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is bold, intricate work that builds and builds. It will also likely go down as the best film I saw at Sundance. Lastly, have I mentioned yet that there's an awesome cat? Because there is an awesome cat, too. 

Grade: A
Distribution: Not yet. 

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Reader Comments (5)

This was the year I should have come to Sundance. So much Iranian goodness all around.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

I'm so excited to see this film. I feel like we're slowly seeing a resurgence in actual vampire narratives the same way the early 00's brought about a new wave of strong werewolf films (Ginger Snaps, Dog Soldiers, Trick'r Treat to name a few). These monsters are designed as devices to explore the darker side of human nature and vampires in particular are often portrayed as nothing but blood suckers. Between this and The Only Lovers Left Alive, it's turning into the year of the vampire.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Amir, for what it's worth, this isn't an Iranian movie. It is set in Iran, but filmed in California.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Glenn - I know, but Iranian filmmakers in Diaspora are almost more dear to me than filmmakers in Iran, because you know... personal aspirations.

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

Oh! Well then, yes, you'll love it!

January 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

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