“She would have been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
-Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find
The Girl in “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is a lonely unnamed vampire. Like Flannery O’Connor’s The Misfit, she is an outcast living on the fringes of society, committing acts of violence against people who more or less deserve them. When she bites off the finger of the drug dealer Saeed and then drains the blood from his neck, it is deserved because he has terrorized Arash, the protagonist in the film who has to take care of his drug-addicted father.
The murders The Girl commits are to eliminate those who are hurting her society. The Girl is the eyes of the community watching its members, ensuring they don’t step out of line. She tells a young boy, a street urchin, that she’ll be watching him for the rest of his life. She is equal parts Santa Clause and Batman, delivering her own brand of street justice. Her hijab suggests a religious morality, as well as a locality, that those other two do not have. In her capacity as an extension of God’s vengeance, her actions are righteous.
For all that righteousness she, herself, doesn’t feel worthy. She knows she has done bad things unlike the innocent Arash. Arash is naïve and silly and polite. He is pure; he doesn’t do drugs (usually), he respects his father, he works for his money, he doesn’t attempt to take advantage of women. He is the film’s real victim, something like a virgin sacrifice. He cannot be loved by his father because his father’s love is consumed by the grief over his wife’s death and the heroin he uses to forget it. Arash is rejected by Shaydah who doesn’t think Arash is cool enough and then The Girl who doesn’t think Arash comprehends exactly what kind of person she is. And indeed, he does not.
Ana Lily Amirpour wanted to make a spaghetti western and she included the necessary elements: a nameless antagonist, the generic Bad City, and sparse dialogue. The film does not hide itself from the viewer. It is a fable, a type of unreality in which the viewer can get lost. The quarry that holds The Girl’s numerous victims is ignored by the townspeople and noticed, but ultimately passed over by the viewer. It’s a reality that is unimportant in the film’s world. It’s not easy to create a place that is real and unreal all at once.
Outside of a few key moments, the film is cleverly understated. Sheila Vand as The Man With No Name has sparse dialogue accented by silent-film-level expressiveness (The Passion of Joan of Arc) and punctuated by the sudden appearance of her fangs. Arash Marandi, as the innocent, is eminently likeable. The film has a small cast, a few locations, a small world that could really be anywhere if not for the language of the film and the costume of The Girl. There aren’t many films that can create so much using so little. In that way, and others, the film has much in common with Dogville. Quite simply, the old adage (or cliché) is true: it is greater than the sum of its parts.