Avengers: Age of Ultron has arrived, heralding the start of the summer blockbuster season. Superheroes are now the dominant cultural currency; this year there’s still Ant-Man and Fantastic Four to come, but Marvel, DC and Fox have almost 30 hero flicks scheduled between 2016 and 2020. Other big, loud, CGI tentpoles abound: Jurassic World is a couple of weeks away, and will be followed by the likes of Terminator: Genisys, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, the latest Hunger Games, and ultimately Star Wars: the Force Awakens. The franchise void left by the end of the Harry Potter and the Middle Earth sagas has been rapaciously filled.
But if the sound system-challenging commercial behemoths that dominate the industry are not your cup of tea, there’s still hope. This week, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night finally gets a UK release, after a triumphant tour of the 2014 festival circuit and unanimous critical acclaim. Probably the first (and certainly the best) Iranian vampire western noir romance, Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature debut was in competition at the BFI London Film Festival last year, and was many critics’ pick to win ahead of Leviathan. The film tells the story of Arash, a stylish young man whose hard-earned car is seized as payment for his father’s drug debts. Frustrated and lonely in Bad City, a dusty death-tinged small town, he finds himself drifting towards a magnetic, enigmatic, skinny, silent young lady who happens to be an immortal blood-sucker.
The story isn’t complex and it’s told slowly, but so stylishly; Taft, in Southern California, doubles for our unspecified Iranian ghost town, where bodies are occasionally dumped in pits and drug dealers cruise malevolently in silent cars. The monochrome palette emphasises the mood of foreboding, but also highlights the beautiful cinematography that makes each long, deliberate shot look like a postcard. That’s not to say the mood is uniformly dark – tactical use of loud, uplifting pop music brings brio and verve to our teen romance, with Arash and the (unnamed) girl circling closer and closer, his James Dean hair chasing her while she rolls down a dark street on a skateboard, him in a kid’s Halloween costume, her coat billowing gently behind like a cape.
There are a few moments of shock and violence, handled elegantly and with enough bite (sorry) to jolt viewers back into the horror genre. In general though, this isn’t so much a film that jumps between genres as one that doesn’t care which one you’re looking for. Whether you come to this film for the romance, for the dusty Iranian tableau, for the pop music or for the blood-letting, what will keep you here is the mood, the strong performances all around, and the supremely confident direction and cinematography. It’s my understanding that the A Girl arrived at the London Film Festival still looking for international distributors, and soon secured VICE Films to bring it to the UK. Well VICE, we owe you one – a film this charismatic, well-realised, and, well, just plain cool, is a rare treat and should be seen on the big screen.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is at selected UK cinemas from Friday 22nd May 2015.