Bad City. A place so appropriately named it must only house dealers, prostitutes and those too poor to escape. The law enforcement obviously did a long time ago, ’cause there’s a ruddy huge ditch full of steadily increasing corpses just on your left as you drive in. Nobody’s cleaning that up.
Our hero’s fatally sick father owes a lot of money to the City’s miserable excuse at a drug lord (who also seems to be a member of a Die Antwoord tribute band). He takes the hero’s prized car. Vengeance must be had. Lots of dusty shots of a barren waste town, Morricone-homaging brass and the occasional bout of Peckinpah-indebted violence point to A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night as a promising neo-western. Only its black and white. That’s okay, there’s been a few of those over the years. Dead Man anyone? Oh and there’s a vampire. There’s that too.
Yes, Iran’s first vampire-western. distributed by Vice (and produced by Elijah Wood, who has become an unexpected poster boy for arty genre fare). Though it couldn’t sound more ridiculous, A Girl is one of the more interesting films to hit the world platform in a long while, and a standout of genre cinema in a year that’s fast becoming a banner year for it (It Follows, The Duke of Burdgundy, Mad Max even). And it definitely is a genre film, and needs to be understood on those terms. Carefully and deliberately pinpointing specific genre tropes from both horrors – sumptuous chiaroscuro lighting reminiscent of the expressionist early days of cinema – and westerns (all of the instances I cited), A Girl manages to be more than a synthetic hybrid through its lack of cackhanded “see what we’re doing here’ sign-posting. It’s not a parody. It’s not a homage, like a lot of the genre cinema this year has been. It’s its own entry into the cinematic canon.
While A Girl is greatly stylish (just look at those stills!), such aesthetic choices often run the risk of becoming ‘style-over-substance’, as the pointless cliche goes. Here however the style is the substance, and not in some cocky self-fellating Tarantino manner. The terse, fatalistic, perfectly composed atmosphere, that gorgeous aesthetic, the relentless but measured pacing, all take precedence over the simple but carefully sketched narrative of a boy and a vampire girl in an Iranian shithole town. Their relationship is one of relatively few words, as is the film entire, but thanks to a balance of performance, image and soundtrack (which is a revelation in itself, a winning combo of Amélie-esque accordion and indie rock) it never feels ill fleshed out. Considering film is a visual – and aural – medium, there often seems to be a dearth of reliance of this kind of media interplay, even when just telling stories.
Speaking of Tarantino, it is the sort of film that could have easily chosen to go full-grindhouse if it wished, cranking up the exploitation factor and adding a bit of superfluous grain, and been a perfectly solid vamp-rom-western-thriller. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night chose the wiser path, and is all the fascinating and bewitching for it.