New to Netflix this week: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) is a movie with a real sense of style, which I think is the most important aspect of the vampire genre. I’m usually dismissive of vampire films because they tend to be campy, trite, and largely predictable, but
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is none of those things. Setting the black & white aside for a minute, Director Ana Lily Amirpour makes some nice stylistic choices I haven’t seen in many, if any other films.
The film opens with a wanna-be James Dean we come to know as Arash (Arash Marandi), apparently stealing a cat before heading home in his cool car. We quickly learn he’s not quite that cool when the drug dealer his junkie father (Marshall Manesh) has become indebted to shows up to collect and leaves with Arash’s car. The dealer, Saeed (Dominic Rains), takes the car and picks up a hooker (Mozhan Marnò), presumably his hooker, as she hands him cash and refuses to give back her cut without a free blowjob. While enjoying himself, he sees a figure in the rearview mirror, but when he turns with a start The Girl is gone.
Later, our titular girl who roams the streets alone at night, played by Sheila Vand and credited only as The Girl, appears behind the dealer on the street. She lures him into his own home, sinks her vampiric teeth into him as retribution, and steals his jewelry for good measure.
The Girl doesn’t say much, but we come to understand that she’s an independent vampire with a sense of morality and self-control, which is refreshing. Through a series of coincidences Arash encounters The Girl one night walking home from a party, lost and high on ecstasy. We know Arash isn’t as good as he lets on, but neither is The Girl and they both play it cool. Instead of killing him in his moment of weakness, what actually transpires is a moment of great tenderness, setting up a very conflicted ending.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night shares a lot of similarities with another modern black & white film with subtitles, Ida (2013, also on Netflix), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Ida concerns a nun, who before taking her final vows and leaving the rest of the world behind forever, is compelled to explore her past in the form of visiting her last remaining relative, her aunt Wanda.
At this point you could be saying to yourself… I want no part of either of these black & white foreign language films, one about a moody vampire, the other about a nun. But trust me, what makes these two special is that their mostly unknown female leads anchor creative, expressive films that deliver in unexpected ways.
I can assure that the plot of each is interesting and twists and turns enough to make each worth watching, but both films also took me by surprise with their taste in music. In A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night in particular, Amirpour’s music selection gives the film a vibrancy that replaces the lack of color. Sometimes it’s ironic, and other times it’s beautifully blended into the background, but it always fits and enhances each scene. The same is true of Ida in which music plays a small role in the title character’s journey.
Last but not least, the choice of black & white gives the fictional Iranian town “Bad City” new opportunities for sinister shadows and an added emphasis on facial expressions thanks to a high number of closeups. Tight close ups with blurred (one time rounded) edges, and long takes blowing way past awkward with shifting perspectives are well done, especially the final scenes. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night would not be as creepy, nor The Girl as intimidating and mystical, without the added mystery of black & white. Instead of seeing the lack of color as a deterrent, it should be another reason for you to check it out.