‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ (2014) Review

Note: As with last weekend, I’ll be doing a double-feature but won’t be posting those reviews until Monday.

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“Are you a good boy?”

After the over the top glories of Demons I was more in the mood for something quiet and slow last night.  I’d been thinking more along the lines of a classic black and white film – I’ve got The Black Cat with Legosi and Karloff recorded from TCM – but just couldn’t quite get into it. Then I saw A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was on Shudder. I haven’t watched it since it came out, but I remember liking it – and it’s got that languid pace I was in the mood for.

The Medium
Streaming on Shudder. While I enjoy the film it’s not one I feel the need to own.

The Movie
In Bad City, where the citizens dump their inconvenient corpses in dry riverbeds and rusty oil pumpjacks creak on the horizon day and night, there is something sinister moving in the dim streets. Amidst the violent men, drug-addled parents, and lost youth, there prowls a figure of menace – riding a skateboard and wearing a chador.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a weird film. It’s presented as if it was an Iranian horror movie, but despite the Farsi and the bloodsucking it’s more of an existential art-film, somehow both foreign and quintessentially American. The moody black and white cinematography – some scenes are starkly lit and others various layers of dim – looks like something out of New Wave Italian cinema, but the protagonist has more of a James Dean style (and awesome vintage car). There are oil rigs and factories and little ranch houses in neighborhoods that look middle-class America normal. There are restrictive social mores and costume parties where everyone is using E.  Despite the contradictions it all somehow works, creating a gestalt setting that is familiar and completely alien at the same time.

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In this Anyplace/No Place the young Arash (Arash Marandi) is simply trying to find something to alleviate his isolation. He rescues a stray cat, tries to protect his addict father from a repellant drug dealer, and pines – in his stifled, culturally stratified way – for the rich girl that lives where he works as a gardener. Nothing seems to go his way, however. The drug dealer steals his prized 57 Thunderbird as payment for his father’s drug debt. The rich girl finds him laughable at best. And the cat… well, even the cat causes him misery.

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But wait, isn’t this a horror movie? Shouldn’t there be, I don’t know, some horror? I mean, other than the existential ‘woe is me, I am alone’ sort of thing. Yes, and though it’s presence is sporadic, there IS some bite to the film – literally. The titular Girl (Sheila Vand) is a dark presence lurking at the edges of the screen, all stillness and dark clothes surrounding a too-white face. She’s waiflike and ethereal and violently monstrous. This a world where women are treated as little more than sex objects or… well, that’s pretty much it, really. In that dark setting the Girl can be seen as a dark avenger, meting out punishment to the men who hurt women, even going so far as to threaten a child with an awful punishment if he isn’t a ‘good boy.’

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Vand is fantastic as the Girl. Though tiny and pixie-ish in appearance, she still manages to convey menace, especially after an early scene in which she spends roughly five minutes standing completely still before biting a man’s finger off. After that, it seems like she could be capable of anything – one of my favorite scenes involves her tormenting an older man by mirroring his every move. He progresses from being intrigued to being annoyed to finally being terrified. It’s artfully done.

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But really, despite the horror trappings, this is a romance. A dark and bloody romance, but it’s still boy-meets-girl, even if the girl is an undead monster and the boy is an aspiring criminal. Arash and the girl meet on a sidewalk after a costume party where he has dressed as Dracula. There’s something that they see in each other, a recognition of loneliness, maybe. It’s a spark, and the scenes the two characters share are some of the best in the film – particularly one late-night rendezvous near a factory.

The deliberate pace and lack of a driving plot sometimes means things bog down. There were times I found my attention wandering and, though he does a decent job as Arash, Marandi is simply outshone by Vand. Any time he’s on the screen instead of her things tend to slow down more than I’d like. That being said, they have real chemistry and work best together, a sum greater than its parts.

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The Bottom Line
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is not a typical horror movie, not by any stretch. There are horrific things that happen, and we are, after all, talking about a vampire here, but it’s too moody and sparse and surreal – too romantic – to be easily recommended as a ‘horror film.’  There’s something about it, though, that tugs at your brain a bit – and I find myself thinking about it at odd times this morning. Yeah, it’s all art-film atmosphere and meaningful music choices – and it’s tempting to wonder if it’s all style with no substance – but there is some meat on these spare bones. It might be an acquired taste, but it’s well worth taking a bite.