Sundance 2014 Review: Farsi Vampire Western A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT Barely Gets By On Novelty
Director Ana Lily Amirpour's background in painting, design and music are certainly seen (and heard) in every stark frame of her film, which cools itself over the bleak desert days and into the pitch black nights with considerable style. Bad City is an awful trip on the way to nowhere. A oil hacked town populated by pimps, hookers, addicts and a hopeful few that may just get out of this podunk place someday if it kills them. Oh, and there's also a vampire... a slight, doe-eyed, young looking woman in a Chador who is a vampire.
One of those hopeful few is B-movie greaser type, Arash. He's a quiet kid, with a soft if tough gaze, who cruises around town in his way-cool vintage car. He's fond of his fat cat and tries to ignore the body count that keeps rising in the ditch on the side of the road. When his heroin addled father can't pay up, the local dealer and pimp takes his car as payment, leaving Arash with little hope of getting out of town. In the meantime, he works as a day laborer in a more affluent part of town, sparkling with mansions, jewels, and forbidden young women.
Pushing his weight around with the new wheels, the pimp gets more than he bargained for when he encounters our vampire. In what is perhaps one of the film's best tension building scenes, we watch as the pimp snorts lines of coke, the girl standing cautiously in the doorway, only to... what comes is indeed to good to spoil, exerting just the right amount of laughs, with a gross-out sense of symbolism.
With what we assumed to be our antagonist out of the way, Arash gets his car back, and soon enough he is wandering the streets, dressed as Dracula for a costume party, and high on ecstasy. Gliding along on the skateboard she took from a frightened boy, the girl encounters Arash.Though done in a far more subdued manner, sparks fly between the pair ala Wild At Heart.
From here the film spreads itself thinner and thinner, rarely losing points on craft and style, which are all top notch, but outside of a few scenes, Amirpour is unable to create a greatly sustaining dynamic between the star crossed lovers. What performance stands out in this desert of cinematic archetypes is Sheila Vand's turn as the girl. Beguiling in her beauty, exuding both a weariness that suggests centuries, and an equal curiosity that strikes a bright youthful accord, when Vand is on screen vamping it up, the film is at its very best. The truth is in the eyes, and her nearly wordless turn punches this up tenfold. And when she wants to be she can also be very, very frightening. There's certainly something subversive going on here having a woman of middle eastern descent preying on mostly bad men, but those metaphors don't go beyond the striking nature of the image.
Amirpour's film is in no way a flash in the pan, but its world, again, feels far too artificial and insulated to resonate much beyond the screen. It really does feel as if these people did not exist before the projector snapped to life, and will not exist again when the light dies. Still, there's something magical about that and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night surely knows it. As it stands though I feel Amirpour needs a few more, leaner films under her belt to truly sustain our attention.