While on the surface A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a vampire story, it seems far more interested in conveying atmosphere and emotion than it does in giving us a traditional narrative experience, and you set up a wonderful shot near the halfway mark of the film that perfectly encapsulates this mission statement. In a completely dialogue free scene, the titular Girl stands facing away from co-lead Arash as he approaches, then ever-so-slowly turns around and relaxes her head against his chest. It's a lovely bit of visual storytelling, and says so much more about these characters and what they're feeling than words could. This one shot makes it perfectly clear that this is a movie about two lonely people finding a connection, however improbable it may be.
You could have taken the easy route and lent this a film a drab visual style to mirror the despair of living in Bad City, a heavily industrialized wasteland whose residents enjoy varying states of isolation and suffering, choosing either to slip into drug abuse or seek companionship from the wrong sort of people. Though it must be said that the movie isn't nearly as heavy as all that; it certainly never exploits its characters. Instead, your evocative black-and-white cinematography makes even the mundane and ugly appear beautiful. Which is quite an achievement.
Curiously absent are the visceral thrills typically associated with this type of genre picture; outside of dispatching one of Bad City's more loathsome inhabitants, writer/director Ana-Lily Amirpour doesn’t rely on violence to give her story momentum, which, in an age when cinematic thrills come cheaper than ever, is a classy decision that reflects an intent to make Girl more of a mood piece than a full on horror film.
Coupled with ingenious costume design that has the Girl's chador double as both traditional garb and billowing cloak, you work wonders when it comes to lending The Girl a screen presence that feels truly unique and iconic. Whether it’s a hooded figure slipping in and out of the city's all-encompassing shadows while stalking her prey, or, in what might be my favourite shot in the film, riding a skateboard down the street with the edges of her chador billowing around her like a bat’s wings.
Of course, I'd be remiss without mentioning how agreeable your camera finds lead actress Sheila Vand. Her remarkable performance runs the gambit from palpable vulnerability to great savagery. She promises to inflict grave harm upon a child if he were to ever stop being a "good little boy"—and we believe her.
Breathing a new life into a stale sub-genre, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is being sold as "the first Iranian vampire-western.” Here's hoping it won't be the last.