My first thought when witnessing the titular Girl for the first time is that she is beautiful. However as the plot progresses her beauty transitions into something a bit more frightening, and above all powerful. This is one of the simplest ways to describe Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. It serves as an eye-catching mash up of horror, spaghetti western, thriller and suspense in a way that suggests one genre then leads you down towards another. By the end we are left in the hands of the characters, who wield all the power and control of their own fates.
Amirpour tells a tale of a vampire known only as the Girl (Sheila Vand) and her slow-burn crusade against those who exploit the ills of society. Set in the black and white backdrop of the fictional town Bad City, the Girl aims for redemption against those she encounters, her victims consist of those who have committed crimes against women, as well as smarmy pimps and middle aged drug addicts. Her story runs parallel to a young man named Arash (Arash Marandi), a gardener who cares for his heroin addict father (Marshall Manesh) and a cat.
Throughout the film we see Arash work hard given what life has dealt him, without necessarily being someone who is good and wholesome. In contrast to an almost complacent Arash we have the Girl, someone so clearly laid out as her own person, and a predator. She does not necessarily seek out these victims, yet if she encounters one in the midst of committing misdeeds she will seek retribution and confront them. When their stories do ultimately intertwine, we are confronted with this surreal wayward romance where Arash and the Girl reconcile what is lacking in their own lives.
The film is unique in numerous aspects, and one of the most striking features is the imagery that Amirpour depicts. The black and white scheme paves way for an atmosphere that is more gothic, rebellious, and cooler, permitting unique silhouettes and styles. The Girls’ chador specifically is implemented in various imaginative ways, which almost serves as a cloak of sorts. When she skateboards down the streets of this bad city the illusion is particularly haunting as she glides and floats across the pavement with this cape behind her. Arash himself is dressed in a manner reminiscent of James Dean’s Americana- the rebel with a heart in jeans and a white t-shirt. This helps to create a sort of old-school bad-ass-kids-in-a-ghost-town impression that runs throughout the film.
A quintessential staple in most horror films is music, and how it is used to build suspense. Often done in sensational undertones, A Girl takes an remarkable alternative in the sense that it does not use a score, but rather takes existing tracks that were handpicked by Amirpour in order construct its tension. This results in stretches of silence disrupted only by either dialogue or music. The soundtrack is a distinctive blend that borrows from traditional Iranian music as well as more punk, electronic and new wave melodies. This creates a cool ethereal backdrop that often juxtaposes with the tone and atmosphere of assorted scenes.
Arguably the most relevant feature that makes a memorable film is its plot. The interplay between its characters and how they ascertain a particular message and tale in a way that provokes one’s imagination. This was certainly accomplished in Amirpour’s A Girl. The Girl in particular has been written as a powerhouse for feminist ideals as someone with the freedom to choose and take control of their own hindrances, free from any outside influences. Through her story we can explore the ramifications of isolation with an undercurrent of film noir, horror and a dash of romance. The characters that revolve around her, particularly her victims, a drug dealing gangster named Saeed (Dominic Rains) and Arash’s abusive father Hossein (Marshall Manesh), are manipulated and haunted in intricate and creative ways that make us reconsider the morality of her actions. By the end, we are left both terrified and impressed with her capabilities.
Overall this film is definitely a memorable one. Its music, characters, cinematography, and plot blend together in a way that is both cohesive and thought-provoking. The whole demeanour of the film is evocative of a suave, western, neo-noir era and despite the fear the Girl invokes, we cannot help but respect her and reconsider our moral qualms in the hopes that she ends up fulfilled in the end. The small cast truly reflect a “less is more” ideal, showcasing a stellar amount of skills and execution. A daring directorial debut, Amirpour’s A Girl tells an unexpected love story without the embellishment found in most.