Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: Sexual Anxiety Inverted

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night takes our modern anxieties about female sexuality and turns them on their head by making the lone girl (the subject of fear) into the predator. But far from making this into the male fear-fantasy you might expect (i.e. women are evil and want to drain our precious bodily fluids) or the opposite puritanical revenge-fantasy you might want (i.e. people are evil so we should drain their precious bodily fluids), it instead gives her agency and offers a complex morality play with no easy answers or safe solutions.

Arash is a kind, naive young man who enjoys driving his fancy car and struggles with his father's addiction to heroin. When he's forced to give up the car to pay his father's debts, their relationship is put on thin ice. In comes an alluring young vampire only known as The Girl whose nocturnal strolls are not the result of innocence but of hunger. She preys on sinful men that the world will get along fine without—a commodity there's no shortage of in Bad City. With Arash slowly falling into the underworld of drug culture, there's a constant subtle tension that pervades the rest of the movie concerning whether she's going to fall for his naive charms or eat him for his ethical slip-ups.

But while both characters have their altruistic sides (Arash is amiable; The Girl doesn't kill him when he isn't), this is Bad City, and the entire community is run through with a particularly virulent strain of corruption. The two most potent images we're offered of the landscape are a pile of dead bodies dumped in a ditch and a field full of pumpjacks pulling oil from the earth (draining its precious bodily fluids). Arash becomes a drug dealer over the course of a single (classically edited) montage. The Girl's most honest moment is when she confesses to a prostitute that she identifies with her, as the Bad in Bad City. This place is filled with evil and populated by evil people trying to accumulate more evil for themselves (money, drugs), and like the world of film noir it all slowly infects the lives of both Arash and The Girl.

Also like the world of film noir, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is shot in beautiful black and white and features some absolutely stunning neo-noir cinematography and atmosphere. The visuals call attention to themselves with their crisp compositions and high contrast; like its characters, the film is defined by the extremity between like and dark. Like the subject matter it presents, it is surface beauty in order to hide the moral decay which lies underneath. Here this distinction highlights the boundaries of class: a gardener is separated from his employer by a pearly white balcony. The Girl forced to walks the streets at night is shrouded in a dark black robe—an icon which simultaneously echoes Dracula's cape and the Islamic hijab, twisting a religious symbol into something which is at the same time unholy and proletarian.


Like any story with ambiguous answers to the questions it asks, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night will inevitably play better for some audiences than others. The loose ends in the screenplay (one or two characters disappear without much closure) make it a frustrating experience emotionally, but for me it all adds up thematically. After mulling it over, as I go back through my notes everything with a question mark makes sense. It's a touching romance between two lost souls that features smart social commentary and a stylish play on vampires and film noir. It's one of the most excitingly fresh and original movies I've seen this year so far and is a new contender for my Top 5 Vampire movies of all time.

Related lists: 2014 | Vampires

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