Watching a black and white film may seem like dated recreation to most modern day audiences. The horror genre indulges in powerful palettes of color, especially when emotions, themes, and motifs take center stage. However, with a little innovation and enigmatic craft, the classic viewing standard easily morphs the output of narrative perception like that of Ana Lily Amirpour’s (The Bad Batch) 2014 Iranian vampire western, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Being the first vampire film set in the middle east, despite the word “vampire” never being said, it is neither a typical black and white film, nor a typical vampire story.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night follows a young woman in the middle of an Iranian ghost town overrun with crime. Her dark supernatural secret allows her to drift the streets at night seeking vigilante justice so that she may feed her thirsty appetite. When she meets a handsome stranger and worlds collide, black and white imagery in contemporary horror becomes instantly iconic through Amirpour’s lens. The stellar performances of Sheila Vand (68 Kill), Arash Marandi (Fireflies), Mozhan Marno (The Blacklist), Marshall Manesh (How I Met Your Mother), Dominic Rains (Chicago Med), and Masuka the cat, of course, combined with Lyle Vincent’s skilled cinematography smooths the mixture of genres and appropriates a novel piece of indie gold. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night proves that blood may be necessary for proper punishment, but not necessary for the visuals of a horror film to be alluring.
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When we think of vampire films, and spaghetti westerns at that, cute cats and casual skateboarding are not the first few images that usually come to mind. Being that A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night has both and more, Amirpour adds a certain element of quirk to her film. Creating a signature style through circumstances such as a beautiful balloon dance, a transitional ecstasy trip, and an ironic vampire costume, she utilizes multiple tools of imagery and contemporary pieces that set the film apart from what might be expected. The narrative might seem pretty linear, but the atmosphere is unique in its realism and dream-like aura. The peppered oddities add movement and mystique to each scene and situation. There’s a strange vibe of romance to A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night in that it both roams in mystery and grounds itself in emotional punches. The combination is really something special that contributes to the captivating energy running consistently throughout the film.
“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night proves that blood may be necessary for proper punishment, but not necessary for the visuals of a horror film to be alluring.“
The subtle quirks of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night are comfortably mild as is its slight humor. It’s a tamed, yet eccentric love story that articulated the complex world of one undead woman. While Sheila Vand as The Girl is undoubtedly beautiful, the focus is not on her outright sexuality like on most vampiric female characters. The focus instead rests on on her overall appeal. The Girl is quiet, shy, and unglamorous, but she oozes engagement and secrecy. From the second you see her exit a small local shop, you’re drawn to her. She lines her eyes, paints her lips, secures her caped hijab, and goes off to hunt evildoers in the night. It’s not hard to see that she’s a peculiar antihero as she coasts down the pavement on four wheels and falls shamefully in love with the sensitively brooding Arash, all while literally devouring the dangers of the streets and swaying to synth-style disco pop music. The two don’t even share a kiss, but the romance is heavy. The contemporary soundtrack pulsing along to such an off-putting darkness turns the film into a truly nuanced piece bitten by a rush of optimistic electricity.
Amirpour’s decision to set A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night in black and white is just as intriguing as her esoteric storytelling. Calling back to classic films like Nosferatu and The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly alike, minimal dialogue and sheer expression is key to the film’s striking content. Crafting the backdrop in war-torn devastation, the lack of color saturation could serve as a commentary on the state of Iran. Drug problems, poverty, pollution, prostitution, murder, and brutality plague the atmosphere of Bad City, dulling the more positive vibrancies and varieties of life. There’s more shades of gray in black and white films than there are just black and just white tones. The perceived mundane nature of a black and white canvas easily encompasses the lack of change in the city and those who occupy it, speaking to the nuances of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Loneliness, isolation, sadness, and guilt drive the characters together in circumstance, but also pull through the blur of black and white. What we do to fulfill our needs, protect others, and to love, is not just one color over another, but a mix of that complex gray area.
“the focus is not on [The Girl’s] outright sexuality like on most vampiric female characters […] [she] is quiet, shy, and unglamorous, but she oozes engagement and secrecy“
While it may appear that the choice of putting a black and white lens over a modern-day tale blankets A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night in a bleak dread, the restricted palette choice builds on stark brightness and magnetic darkness. Highlighting elements of luxury and purity as well as polished simplicity, light and intensity contrast with the film’s pulpy attitude and gritty atmosphere. The limitation really does a service to The Girl. Because she is draped in black like that of a classic vampire, her face, especially her eyes and lips, are accentuated. Though strong and mildly shocking to first time viewers, the Mod-western black and white perspective does not take away from the performances but rather enhances them. Viewers are not distracted by color and visual cues in the traditional sense, so the focus is intentionally aimed on the visual emotion and action taking place as the narrative progresses.
Are You A Good Boy?
In matters of black and white, one that resides in the most gray area of all is vigilante justice. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a tremendous exercise in retaliation and revenge with a dangerous woman at the forefront. The Girl appears to be average, one who likes normal things like skateboarding and pop music, but she is also a cunning predator hunting down the men who damage the people of her city. The character of The Girl and her position of brilliant prowess mocks the behaviors of street assailants to rid the city streets of physical and mental malice. The hardships and vulnerabilities of women are strongly present, as is their ability to fight back. She may be one person, but she represents a larger cause that reaches far beyond the limits of Bad City. The Girl’s vampiric bloodlust is fulfilled by preying on evil men as her unusual condition serves as her innate desire to attack those who attack.
Flipping the notion of a woman preying on a man as he walks home alone at night, The Girl’s punishment provides a solution to one of the themes that runs subtly throughout the film. Change, both the promise and lack thereof, contents with the characters of Amirpour’s story and drives the motives of our heroine. Whether she is eliminating the lives of violent pimps or intimidating a little boy out of his brutal destiny, The Girl is sparking change in a setting of constant sorrow and carrying it out with two fangs. The crossing of paths and fortunate (and unfortunate) scenarios initiate waves of movement In the current climate that is promoting change and progress, the film’s narrative remains relevant and hopeful that if one stands for something now, those of the future may not have to suffer. Supplementing The Girl’s outward fight and the surface problems portrayed in Bad City, the looming arch of change brings all the pieces of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night together in the end. It’s another factor that is never comes through as clear as black and white.
“Whether she is eliminating the lives of violent pimps or intimidating a little boy out of his brutal destiny, The Girl is sparking change in a setting of constant sorrow and carrying it out with two fangs.“
If you’re looking for an experiment in color, you’ve ironically come to the right place with A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. It’s special in that it lacks most of the film features we search for, like dialogue and color. However, Amirpour has created a style all her own that has turned simple, cinematic factors like emotion and meaning into all the elements necessary for success. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is special and different. It’s a nuanced love story, a spaghetti western vampire tale, an Iranian horror, an unlimited metaphor subjective to a multitude of audiences, but most of all it’s a modern-day black and white genre film that actually bites back.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is now streaming on Shudder.
What do you think of Ana Lily Amirpour’s vampire western, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night? Are you a fan of its modern use of black and white filming? Let us know your thoughts over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!