London 2014: 'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night' review

For much of the past decade, creatures of the night have had to stand by and watch as their charisma was leeched by toothless tween angst franchises. Fortunately, attempts are now being made to give succubi their credibility back. First came the droll literary ennui of Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) and now, in what has been billed as Iran's first vampire film, we has A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) the striking and achingly cool feature debut of America-based Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour. Sprinkled with notes from genres both gothic and western, Amipour's expansion of her eponymous 2011 short film is a fantastic undead rebuke to Middle-Eastern patriarchy.

Clad in a traditional black chador, the titular Girl (Sheila Vand) stalks the inky streets of Bad City - Bakersfield, California standing in for a fictional prefab burg in smalltown Persia. Her cloak plays to both cultural and cinematic conventions, yet she overturns both as a hipsterish nightwalker intent on her own fanged brand of feminism. Moral decay is as redolent as blood in this locale and both are on the mind of Vand's near silent predator. The denizens of Bad City provide all manner of fitting prey, not least the drug-dealing, Saeed (Dominic Rains), a misogynistic lowlife with 'sex' tatooed across his neck. One of his clients is the resentful paterfamilias, Hossein (Marshall Manesh), who is convinced his deceased wife - upon whom he pins all his woes - is watching and judging him from the eyes of a portly feline.

Hossein's long-suffering son, Arash (Arash Marandi), is one of the few comparably good eggs wandering the town's desolate sidewalks. Arash is the classic 50's teen rebel to the Girl's more indefinable shadow. Vand plays her both as worldly wise and playful youth; equally as steeped in Western culture as him, with evenings spent dancing around her minute flat to pop music. Largely eschewing narrative drive, it's scenes like these that fulfil the film's seductive atmosphere - its raison d'être. This is prevelant throughout the Girl's initial acts of gender equalisation and becomes particularly evocative when a burgeoning love story between Arash and the Girl begins. Whilst proceedings are intentioanlly devoid of scares, the characters' shared yearning to escape the allegorical oppression of Bad City is palpable.

Captured via DOP Lyle Vincent's intoxicating monochrome photography, the action plays out in arch fashion with deadpan delivery accentuating the rich vein of devilish humour that's the life blood of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Whether the ambiguous conclusion is a suggestion of hope or not, this deadly duo make for a painfully stylish slice of vampiric Iranian counter-culture. Though Amirpour's tale of a malignant misanthrope may not comprehensively cater to either its arthouse or horror audiences, it is a confident debut whose seductive spell is difficult to resist.

The BFI London Film Festival takes place from 8-19 October 2014. For more of our coverage, simply follow this link.

Ben Nicholson


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