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.” The film now opens the 2014 New Directors/New Films Festival, kicking off March 19 at Lincoln Center.
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.
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.