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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Review: Iranian vampire western full of broken, dark characters

    Say+Ahh+Productions

    Say Ahh Productions

    Oscar season is in full force as Hollywood releases its cream of the crop from now until the end of the year. Stepping onto the refreshingly off-the-beaten path, however, is “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night,” a vampire indie film that has style in spades.

    While the title refers to a young, adrift vampire known only as The Girl (Sheila Vand), the backdrop against which the film plays out, the fictional Iranian ghost town of Bad City, is just as much of a main character. The city seems to beget its inhabitants and happenings.

    On the outskirts, oil rigs rapidly move up and down with a mechanical, unnatural rhythm. There’s also a wash littered with what must be trash, until the music slows down to a surreal discord and the audience realizes they are corpses strewn about the dirt. When a young man with a wide-eyed cat in his arms walks by the nightmarish scene, he doesn’t turn his head at all in acknowledgment. Death and disease are commonplace in Bad City.

    So much of the film is set at night and cast in contrasting, chiaroscuro shadows that the only way to relay the bleak atmosphere is through black and white. It’s nearly impossible to imagine the visual canvas of this film being expanded to color, but if such a place actually existed, it could only exist in the space between black and white.

    The Girl walks the empty streets of Bad City by night. Lamplights elongate her shadow to project a vast figure. She silently observes the nightlife’s various denizens, almost acting as a type of moral arbiter.

    There’s Saeed (Dominic Rains), the resident tough-guy pimp with tattoos all over his body and cocaine up his nose, and Atti (Mozhan Marnò), a prostitute saving up money to escape Bad City and her current occupation, who hangs a tattered world map on her bedroom wall representing this goal. There’s also a man dressed as a woman with thin, drawn-on eyebrows (credited only as “the Rockabilly,” played by Reza Sixo Safai) whose only scene involves dancing, quite inexplicably, with a black balloon. Maybe his joy in being alone and in his gender-bending image is a foil to The Girl’s quiet solitude, but the whole character is just an odd little aberration in a cohesive piece.

    The most sympathetic story of these broken people is that of Arash (Arash Marandi) and his father, Hossein (Marshall Manesh). Arash is boyishly handsome with a good, unassuming personality to match. However, his aging father has taken to drugs since the death of his wife, and he doesn’t have enough money to keep up with payments to Saeed. Things start to look up when, in a wonderful, cutely ironic scene, he meets The Girl after a Halloween party dressed as Dracula, plastic teeth and all.

    Pimps, prostitutes, drug addicts and the bleak pall all hang over the two and the city itself seemingly suggests a very dark, gritty story. However, it’s the distinctively cool, slightly irreverent stylization that Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour infuses into every frame of the self-described “first Iranian vampire spaghetti western” that turns this into something else entirely different and awesome.

    When she steps out for the night, the female vampire goes through her own unique process of getting ready. In her room, she puts on vinyl records, swaying to the music. The film’s soundtrack is one of the most hip and overt since 2011’s “Drive.”

    She dons her body-shrouding burka, a smart takeoff from the typical Dracula cape. She even puts on some makeup, applying heavy eyeliner that will make her look all the more threatening when she transitions from girl walking alone at night to terrifying vampire.

    The transformation Vand can make on the turn of a dime is truly remarkable, most notably in her face. It’s hard to believe at points she’s the same person. One minute, she’s a spectator off to the side, and the next, her fangs are out and she’s bearing down with a demonic visage on her next victim. Oh, she also happens to skateboard, too, her burka flapping behind her like wings.

    “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night,” like its protagonist, is disarmingly fresh and memorable. Just like how the members of Bad City don’t think much of The Girl, it would be a mistake to underestimate and overlook this film.

    “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” is currently playing at The Loft Cinema.

    Grade: A

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    Follow Alex Guyton on Twitter.

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