By Scott Dorward
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (USA, 2014)
Once again, I’m using the October Horror Movie Challenge to fill in a gap in my viewing. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night has been on my radar since it came out seven years ago. Still, I didn’t really know what to expect from it. Director Ana Lily Amirpour’s description of it being “The first Iranian vampire Western” didn’t help much. All I knew for sure was that it was shot in black and white, the dialogue is in Persian, and that it involves a vampire. Oh, and it received great reviews. Let’s see if it lives up to its reputation.
Arash, a gardener, lives in Bad City, a rundown town somewhere in Iran. The two things he seems to love are the cat he rescues (steals?) in the opening scene and his car. When his addict father gets into debt with Saeed, a local drug dealer/pimp, Saeed threatens the cat and takes the car.
Meanwhile, the girl of the title, whose name we never learn, roams around Bad City by night, garbed in a black chādor. When the girl encounters Saeed, she goes home with him. Despite Saeed’s attempts to impress her with drugs, guns and money, she only wants one thing from him. Sprouting fangs, she tears out his throat and feasts.
Shortly after, Arash arrives at Saeed’s home, hoping to trade some stolen earrings for his car. He finds the pimp dead and takes a briefcase of money and drugs. After a party in which he is talked into taking ecstasy, he wanders the streets, lost, until he encounters the girl and goes home with her. So begins their unlikely romance.
As Arash and the girl grow closer, Arash’s father becomes more erratic. Relationships shift and fracture. The stage is set for tragedy.
Amirpour says that she created this film to explore various presentations of the vampire in myth. The one that stands out here is the vampire as a plague. From the opening shot of bodies piles in a ditch to the empty streets, Bad City is a town in the grip of something deadly. The girl supposedly takes on a vigilante role, punishing those she considers evil and scaring others straight. At the same time, she preys on a homeless man who we never see doing anything wrong. The girl feels like arbitrary death, stalking the night in her black garb.
For all the themes explored by her character, the girl is surprisingly ordinary for a vampire. She lives alone, spending her time listening to music. Her rare social interactions are awkward and more than a little shy. If she didn’t eat people, she would be unremarkable.
One thing that really didn’t work for me is the name “Bad City”. Sure, I get that Amirpour is going for something mythic, but it still sounds daft. Maybe it works better in the original Persian. Still, it seems to live up to its name. Apart from the empty buildings and oil refineries, there only seem to be a half-dozen residents left, not counting the vampire or the cat.
Despite the Iranian setting, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was actually shot in Taft, California. Amirpour decided that filming in Iran would place too many restrictions on the film’s content. While this is not exactly an explicit film, aspects like Rockabilly, the trans woman who also lives by night in Bad City, could never have been included otherwise.
I really seem to have loaded this month with moody black-and-white films and love stories about vampires. The two strands come together here and mesh well. Like so many of this month’s films, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night relies on haunting visuals to draw us in. Happily, it is almost entirely successful in this. The best scenes could have come from some lost film noir from the 1940s, stark shadows shrouding the living and the dead.
It did take me longer than I expected to really engage with A Girl Walks Alone at Night, however. While there are plenty of striking scenes in the first half — Saeed’s death, the party, the girl skateboarding through the night streets — it all feels a bit scattershot. It isn’t until the disparate storylines pull together that the film really comes alive. Once this happens, however, it neatly scares off any doubts.
Like a number of my selections this month, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night wears the mask of a horror film but never really uses it to scare us. This is more of a character piece and a tragic romance, just one with fangs. Regardless, I am happy to have picked it and finally caught up with it. This is a beautifully piece of filmmaking, and once it bites you, it won’t let go.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Possessor (2020)
- The Boogey Man (1980)
- Jakob’s Wife (2021)
- The Queen of Black Magic (2019)
- Cold Hell (2017)
- Seance (2021)
- The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
- Dachra (2018)
- Isle of the Dead (1945)
- After Midnight (2019)
- The Baby (1973)
- Hagazussa (2017)
- Frightmare (1974)
- The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
- Dave Made a Maze (2017)
- Raw (2016)
- The Old Ways (2020)
- Terror Train (1980)
- mon mon mon MONSTERS (2017)
- Sator (2019)
- Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
- The Lighthouse (2019)
- Anything For Jackson (2020)
- Warning: Do Not Play (Amjeon) (2019)
- Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
- The Field Guide to Evil (2019)
- A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
- The Wizard of Gore (1970)
- Fingers (2019)
- Lake Bodom (2016)
- Island of Lost Souls (1932)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!