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'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night' Review: Must-See Iranian Vampire Noir

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood November 18, 2014 at 1:02PM

A strong, exciting voice that emerged from this past Sundance was Ana Lily Amirpour, who brought to the Park City festival what could very well be the first Iranian vampire film, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.” After opening the 2014 New Directors/New Films Festival, the film will be released by Kino Lorber on November 21.
Sheila Vand in 'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night'
Sheila Vand in 'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night'

Shot in inky black-and-white and based on the artful graphic novel also written by Amirpour, the film is set in a ghost town called Bad City (actually Bakersfield, California), where oil derricks pump away in a frenzied state, the deserted streets are decorated with power lines as opposed to trees, and a ditch on the outskirts of town is apparently the corpse dumping ground for a murderer racking up a shockingly high kill list.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

That killer is a young woman vampire (Sheila Vand, giving a suitably killer performance), who wears a black hijab cape and coal-dark eyeliner as she stalks her victims around Bad City’s streets and back alleys. Not everyone she kills. She sometimes gets a thrill out of merely following. And those she does kill (a misogynistic hood, an aging drug addict harassing the town’s prostitute) have probably had it coming for a long time. Very few are innocent in noir, which “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is, along with being a Western and horror film.

Amirpour has a Tarantino-esque sense of music placement. Every few minutes a new song takes over the soundtrack, accompanying sumptuous sequences more tone-infused than plot-oriented, and the music ranges from Iranian pop, synthy techno and twangy showdown pieces reminiscent of Ennio Morricone. Amirpour overuses the music, but her vision is admirable.

In that vein (har, har), “Girl” has the trappings of a first feature. It’s overlong, and focuses too haphazardly on the various Bad City inhabitants, none of whom are as naturally intriguing as our vampire anti-heroine. By the film’s conclusion, after many arresting sequences and just as many that drag, emotion hasn’t built as effectively as it could if the film had been edited more mercilessly. But the same could be said of many works (debut features or otherwise) that proclaim an original new voice. I look forward to the blood-suckers, scoundrels and few down-on-their-luck decent souls Amirpour explores -- and hones -- in her next film.

Our TOH! interview with Elijah Wood's SpectreVision, which produced "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night," is here

This article is related to: Reviews, Reviews, Sundance Film Festival, Festivals, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Ana Lily Amirpour, New Directors/New Films

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.