A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an oddball horror movie, but not because it's goofy or silly. Quite the contrary. Ana Lily Amirpour's debut feature is somber, dark and deadly slow. But it mixes and matches aspects of various genres in such a disarming, unorthodox way that you can't help but be intrigued. It is first and foremost a vampire picture, while also melding in elements of the Western, as well as arch French New Wave relationship dramas. All the while with a cast of actors of Iranian heritage or nationality, set in an Iranian ghost town, spoken entirely in Farsi.
Arash (Arash Marandi) is a poor kid with ambitions of getting out from under the depressing thumb of his mourning, junkie father (How I Met Your Mother's Marshall Manesh). He dresses like James Dean with a haircut that is more Bob Dylan than greaser. He drives a car that he had to work "2,791 days" to afford, as a landscaper for local rich folks. He's going nowhere fast, and he need only look around at the increasingly vacant streets of Bad City (that's actually its name) in order to have this firmly established. Arash is too self-absorbed to notice, even as a nearly silent, sullen vampire (Sheila Vand) is vanquishing the denizens of the town, one-by-one, most of whom, if not all, are men.
The vampire, known in the credits as The Girl, comes out only at night and stalks men who mistreat women. We see her preying on an obnoxious, Die Antwoord-adjacent drug dealer and pimp (Dominic Rains), and even threatens a beggar boy for potentially growing up to be a "bad" man. When the Girl says this, you realize what Amirpour is going for, and she dodges just this much from being way too obvious about it. After all, if George Miller can have Immortan Joe's sister wives scrawl, "Who killed the world?" on the wall, why can't Amirpour do her own version?
It's a thin story that could potentially grow repetitive, but Amirpour somehow manages to stretch it over one hundred minutes. A big part of that is helped by the incredibly drawn-out, Drive-esque dialogue scenes between the characters, much of which is comprised of them staring balefully at one another before uttering a single phrase. Amirpour often shoots the action in semi-slow motion, lending an otherworldly quality to a movie that already looks like it's set in purgatory. The characters, particularly the women, are made up to look like silent film stars (Pola Negri, one of Old Hollywood original vamps, comes to mind), which is appropriate, given how little speaking anyone does in the film. The soundtrack hums with ambient noise when the Girl is nearby, like the broken radio in Silent Hill, a sound design choice that feels oddly at home contrasted with the Velvet Underground-reminiscent music the Girl favors for when chilling at home.
Did I mention the film was shot in black and white? This is a bold, highly successful choice, made brilliant by the cinematographer, Lyle Vincent, who's becoming executive producer, Elijah Wood's, DP of choice. The chiaroscuro lighting and shadows (does anyone say chiaroscuro in any other context?) are almost certainly intended to call to mind German Expressionism, a phrase I don't say too often when discussing movies made after 1940. The look and sound of the film are most easily its strongest suits, as the story, though unpredictable, leaves one a bit dissatisfied. Amirpour both writes and directs, and she has stronger abilities in the latter. But she has clear ideas about the world and its problems, so I look forward to seeing more from her.