10/17/2018 – Ana Lily Amirpour: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
As we get closer to the present day (and today’s movie was released the year I started writing these), the number of horror films from female directors increases dramatically. A large part of that is owing to the recent indie horror boom of which most of these belong as despite the progress, mainstream horror gigs for women remain virtually nonexistent. Our first film is actually a short I already covered back in 2016, 2012’s The Captured Bird by Jovanka Vuckovic featuring some nice special effects. Jennifer Chambers Lynch disappeared for years after the failure of her first film Boxing Helena, but the third film into her comeback, Chained, earned her some positive reviews. Speaking of famous children, Xan Cassavetes (daughter of John and Gena Rowlands), made her narrative debut with a ’70s influenced vampire tale in Kiss of the Damned.
Perhaps there is no better reflection of the gender disparity in horror directing than the two ABCs of Death films. While they are theoretically supposed to show off a wide diversity of directors, the grand total of women involved in directing the fifty-two shorts is five. Two of those (Hélène Cattet and Kristina Buožytė) co-directed with a man and another two are the Soska Sisters (actress Angela Bettis representing the one solo exception). Perhaps as a direct comparison, let’s look next at the one mainstream effort from a female director, Kimberly Peirce’s second remake of Carrie. While successful at the box office, it got mixed reviews and was largely seen as an unnecessary remake which is a shame because as great as De Palma’s version is, it has a lot of issues and a female voice behind the camera (the writers however were male because too much change is scary) should have offered plenty for such an intrinsically female story (yes I know King is also not a woman).
Marina de Van’s Dark Touch and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears from Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have mixed reputations but certainly have their defenders especially for their visual style. 2014’s The Babadook is a film which while pretty good, a large contingent of people seem to inexplicably love. Jennifer Kent first film is a supernatural horror tale but leans far more heavily on the psychological aspect of it than anything else. The Austrian film Goodnight Mommy from Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala has gained a reputation both for its violence and its quality having been selected as the Austrian pick for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, not getting nominated despite some hype for it. Finally, we have a pair of well-reviewed films in Leigh Janiak’s sci-fi horror film Honeymoon and Madellaine Paxson’s horror-thriller Blood Punch.
Ana Lily Amirpour was born in England before moving to the US at a young age. After attending UCLA for film, she would make six short films, 2009’s Six and a Half, 2010’s True Love and Ketab, 2011’s Pashmaloo and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and 2012’s A Little Suicide. In 2012, she would also receive a story credit and star in the found footage horror film The Garlock Incident.
She would breakout with her first feature film, today’s film and an adaptation of one of her shorts, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Billed as an “Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western”, it tended to get lost in the coverage that it was an American film with an American star in Sheila Vand (who is of Iranian descent) and filmed in Los Angeles, not Iran (also that it wouldn’t even be the first Iranian horror film). Still, it would go on to get her near universally positive reviews and make her career. Her next film would be the post-apocalyptic horror film The Bad Batch in 2016. It would feature a much bigger name cast including Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Giovanni Ribisi, and Diego Luna and a much bigger budget, but the reviews weren’t nearly as kind. Since then she’s helmed a trio of TV episodes in the documentary series Breakthrough‘s “Curing Cancer”, Legion‘s “Chapter 10”, and Castle Rock‘s “Past Perfect”.
Black and white and in the Persian language, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is set in Iranian city of Bad City (which raises the question, is there a corresponding Good City?). Arash is a young man whose father is a heroin junkie. His dealer has some terrible facial hair and face tattoos (he has one on his neck saying “sex” in a remarkable amount of subtlety in professing his affinity for it) and takes the kid’s car over money the dad owes.
Meanwhile, a woman in dark lipstick gets the drug dealer to take her back to his place and as he does coke and dances like an idiot, she just silently stares at him. When he goes to make a move on her, she grows fangs and bites his finger off before going ahead and biting his neck and sucking him dry. The vampire in this movie is never given a name, but she’s an intimidating, almost spectral presence when just little more than a silhouette wearing an open chador. Granted, she’s a lot less so when she starts skateboarding about and I’m torn between appreciating the absurdity of the image of a skateboarding vampire and shaking my head at how silly it is in an otherwise pretty straight movie.
Arash and the girl eventually have their paths intertwined as he becomes drawn to her. She rarely talks, and is always looking about so inquisitively, a trait that can go from unsettling to adorable depending on the situation and she displays a great deal of perceptiveness. More than anything, the vampire just seems lonely thanks to her existence, also striking up a tentative friendship with a prostitute.
Beyond anything the film is beautifully shot. Black and white horror is always going to be an easy sell for me and this film does an excellent job of making the night scenes still looking stunning. The film blends a variety of genres of music from what sounds like more traditional Iranian music to stuff belonging in a spaghetti Western to ’80s pop and Amirpour makes them all work complementary together. The Let the Right One In comparisons will certainly crop up with its dramatic and light romantic elements, female SPOILERS1, ’80s themes, and of course, the vampires, but it just feels so much more insubstantial.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night favors not just a slow build, but a slow pace throughout, unafraid to just lean into frequent diversions. Long sections proceed without any progression in the plot and the time spent away from the vampire feels like a waste. Vand (recently seen in We the Animals) is great in the role at least, doing her best with the limited number of lines and the small bits of physicality. For fans of slow, modern indie horror, it’s definitely one to see, but for those of you who are more reticent about such films (or like me who can be more hit or miss in connecting with them) the visuals and Vand may still be enough to make it worth a look.
Bonus Episode #28 – S – Agnieszka Smoczyńska: The Lure (2015)
Directed by Agnieszka Smoczynska
We have a second female director spotlighted today and this time we head out of the US to Poland. Studying direction at the Silesian University of Technology and later attending the Wajda School, Agnieszka Smoczynska would make a number of short film (most notably Aria Diva), before making the transition to feature films with The Lure. Arriving not long after I had to struggle and track down an obscure film called Lokis. A Manuscript of Professor Wittembach when I was looking for a Polish horror film to review (though it wouldn’t see a release stateside for another two years). Her latest release Fugue came out at Cannes this year to solid reviews.
Inspired by The Little Mermaid, The Lure is a dark fantasy-horror-musical. The musical elements start as a musical drama where all the music is performed in the context of the movie, but it does give way to more traditional musical elements later on. There’s quite the music variety throughout the film and while I can’t say any of it had me eager to put it on repeat after the movie ended, most of it worked well in the context of the movie. Two mermaids (and sisters) entrance men into the water with their singing (though the rest of the movie seems to imply it is merely a look that they need) and they wind up taking them back to the nightclub where they play in a band. Apparently set in the ’80s, this club has a mix of strange acts and over-the-top disco style numbers (including a Donna Summer cover) that seem wildly inefficient from a cost standpoint especially when factoring in the garish costumes.
The two sisters when removed from water gain legs but in a moment that uncomfortably ties back to another film this year, are lacking in genitals (that’s not to say they don’t have them though and I did not want to think about this movie let alone visualize it). Neither of them can keep their clothes on long in this movie, but it makes sense since why would a mermaid be comfortable wearing clothes. When water is poured on them, they grow their long tails back (tails which look far better and more fishlike than other efforts in the past). While they can speak Polish (having apparently learned it on a beach in Bulgaria they also communicate in what sounds far more like whale sounds which is one of the niftier touches to the mythologies. The two form a group (the Figs n’ Dates, later The Lure) and in a tie to the source, one of the girls falls for the bassist, a man who sees her as nothing more than a fish.
If you are wondering what the biological imperative for the entrancing humans is, like mermaids of traditional narratives and Cabin in the Woods (well, mermen anyway), they eat the humans. There’s a fun bit of madness to had in these horror bits as well as just in the rest of the movie. That madness settles down as the movie continues on and especially once it dives more fully into its The Little Mermaid adaptation. SPOILERS2. The mythology behind the mermaids is at best unclear and at worst overcomplicating things.
The Lure has enough worthwhile elements though to justify watching it. Even after it starts to falter, there’s still interesting moments happening and the parts before that alone are fascinating. It also has that distinct “you aren’t going to see anything like this” quality that makes it stand out and draws people who may be watching countless horror movies back to back until they start to blend together.
Next up: We Head to South America for the first time this year for Peru’s We Are Not Alone.