FEBRUARY 25, 2015
A lot of independent horror movies are referred to as "Lynchian" (meaning David, not Joe or Liam), and most of the time it's just shorthand for "Doesn't make sense". And that's fine, because it saves me the time of watching it, but every now and then the description is actually accurate and even complimentary. Such is the case with A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, which is basically Let The Right One In by way of Wild At Heart. The black and white photography will probably recall Eraserhead (or even Elephant Man) for those looking for Lynch's aesthetic, but it was Wild At Heart that I kept thinking about, as the film is a love story with a pretty straightforward narrative, peppered with weirdness, much like Heart (one of Lynch's most "normal" movies).
Both films also display an affinity for good ol' rock n' roll, with Girl making particularly good use of "Death" from the band White Lies, much like Jennifer's Body did a few years back. It's the only thing you hear in one of the standout sequences, where our hero Arash and the titular girl (named The Girl) begin to fall in love as they groove along to the music - it's very rare for a film to use an entire song for one sequence, and even rarer in horror, so that it's done over a scene that would be a highlight even if mute makes it quite memorable. I even rewound the movie to enjoy it again, which isn't something I do very often. Ironically, this scene is one of the few (OK, several) that I missed entirely when I saw the film a few weeks ago at the Cinefamily, as I was exhausted as always and the film was very slow paced, making "resting my eyes" all too easy a task. It's why I didn't review it then; I saw enough to know I liked it, but I knew my resulting review would be vague.
Hilariously, I thought I slept through MORE of the film than I actually had, because I only saw the two lovers together very briefly during my theatrical viewing. I assumed there were giant chunks of their blossoming relationship that I had completely missed, but now that I watched it in its entirety I can see that they actually don't spend much of the movie together. They don't even meet until the film is nearly half over, and while it and their next encounter are fairly long scenes, those are pretty much it until the film's closing moments. But the length (and that song!) actually make up for the usual frequency - you buy their feelings for each other even though you haven't spent a lot of time with them together.
The rest of the movie is given over to the film's other characters; it's a compact cast (maybe 8-9 people of note) but they all warrant their moment(s) in the spotlight. Even though many of them aren't exactly upstanding citizens (a drug dealer, Arash's junkie dad, a prostitute, a lazy street kid, etc), there's something endearing about how they all seem to know each other, and writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour deftly creates a complete dynamic, even though I'm pretty sure you never see more than 3 people in any given scene. Arash's junkie father is in deep to the drug dealer, who steals Arash's car and uses it to pick up Atti (the prostitute), who later runs into our Girl (the vampire of the lot), who... you get the idea. It's not really an ensemble, as it's clearly Arash and The Girl's story, but the movie never feels like it's being padded when Amirpour turns her attention elsewhere.
As for the weirdness, there isn't a lot - just enough for you to notice and make the movie that much more memorable. The movie begins with our hero grabbing a cat from someone's yard for some reason, there's a musical interlude with a guy (sort of in drag) waltzing with a helium balloon, and apparently this city (named Bad City) just has a giant pit of bodies that no one seems to think much about. And the scary drug dealer guy (who has the best voicemail message of all time: "Leave a message, hooker") has a Pac-Man tattoo, which makes him look like a goof. The quirkiness is balanced with some legit drama, too; while I have little sympathy for junkies I couldn't help but feel sorry for Arash's dad, who begs Atti not for sex but just to hang out with him, only for her to say he could when he had the money for it. It's interesting; if you were to just write down everything that happened in the movie in general, you'd think it was the boringest film ever made, but these little moments make it almost electric at times - there's always something just a little off-center to make it stick out.
As for the vampire stuff, there isn't a hell of a lot; The Girl feeds on a supporting character every now and then, and quite hungrily so (yay for finger biting!), but it's only a horror movie in the sense that it's about a vampire and vampires need blood. I guess some of her earlier scenes, before she meets Arash, are kind of spooky because she is usually just standing there watching a would-be victim, or following them down the street, but the stillness and usual silence of these scenes keep the movie from feeling like a full blown vampire horror. Much like last year's (even better) Only Lovers Left Alive, the vampirism is part of the characterization in a romantic drama, and thus you shouldn't go in expecting Near Dark or whatever. Even the previously mentioned Let The Right One In indulges in its horrific side more often, and the rare complaints I heard about THAT film concerned its limited "action" from folks who expected more carnage. If you thought LTROI wasn't terror-driven enough, for the love of God do not watch this movie, because I don't want to inadvertently read your eyeroll-inducing reaction. Still, it should be stressed, since the movie is being sold on the strength of being "the first Iranian vampire movie", not "the first Iranian offbeat romantic drama with a vampire who occasionally bites someone".
It'll be out on Blu and DVD in April, in a jam-packed special edition to boot, so keep an eye out for it if you didn't catch it on the festival circuit or during its limited theatrical run. If you enjoyed the aforementioned movies, it should be a fairly safe blind buy, otherwise at least give it a shot on Netflix Instant or whatever if/when it pops up; even if you hate it you'll have to admit there's nothing quite like it - which in the modern genre scene is something worth noting and respecting.
What say you?