Another foreign film that I have been aware off but wasn’t in a rush to watch, waiting for a TV airing instead, which surprisingly paid off. I remember hearing good things about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), a Iranian horror, with a rare female focus which is honestly very refreshing. You could easily say this is a feminist horror. With a female protagonist whose the titular girl who we follow. Beginning of a false footing with a quietly macho guy Arash (Arash Marandi) who we see loitering around a fence, before climbing over to rescue a cat, his cat. The opposite to what Marlon Brando would do (not rescue a cat), more likely o kick in the fence, venting his pent-up anger. Arash is not your typical male hero, if anything he’s the opposite of that in Bad City and fictional Iranian ghost town where the film’s based.
We see that Arash’s walked all over by his father (Marshall Manesh) drug dealer/Pimp Saeed (Dominic Rains) coming for more money that his heroin addicted father owes. His son is doing his best to look after him, who has clearly turned to drugs in the wake of his wife’s death. It’s unusual to see the son living at home and looking after his father on the screen. Of course this a more contemporary situation that Hollywood would never depict, instead it would be the daughter, looking after her father. It reminded me of Westerns, the unmarried daughter staying at home with her elderly father – sometimes blind or very ill and/cranky. This is the way I read the film after some time. A thread that I will pick up on later.
We’ve not even seen the titular girl, or so I thought we had when Saeed meets the first woman, Atti (Mozhan Marnò) in the film, who turns out to be one of his prostitutes who just wants her cut before we finally see the girl (Sheila Vand), dressed in a Hijab, not unusual in itself, but the lone figure in the dark scaring plays upon our inbuilt fears of the Islam and turning it on itself. The fear of the unknown figure within its environment inciting fear to other Iranians. At this point we are held at a distance, unsure of what real danger she poses. Interrupted at a forced sex act, fear is all the figure conveys at this stage.
Following the girl home to her basement flat, seeing her next as just a normal girl, whose shy and reclusive yet beautifully innocent features, how could this be the same girl under the hijab? We have an outsider who enjoys indie music on vinyl and seems to enjoy her own time. It’s the next few scenes that unveil her true identity and power as she lures Saeed to his demise at the hands of a female vampire. This I really didn’t see coming. I took the title too literally here which if anything has surprised me The lone stranger who walks the streets is the one you least suspect, a young woman, a vampire that to some extent is a lone gunfighter prowling the streets at night.
It’s a clever premise, playing on our fears of Islamic extremism and building on that in one of the countries whose dominant religion is Islam. Writing this review after such a horrific week, I feel this film is more relevant. We need to remember the power of fear and what it can do those who it’s inflicted upon. This fear has been confronted to an extent in A Girl Walks Home… instead if fearing the hijab for no reason other than that of extremism, we are actually given something to fear, the supernatural, a being who has take human form, nothing to do with Islam, merely the form of the vampire takes.
I’m reminded of Bone Tomahawk (2015) which played on similar fears, using the Native American and really going far out and giving the characters something to really fear and the audience too. Which leads me nicely back to the Western comparison which started with the role reversal placing Arash in the classic female role that falls for the stranger, the gunfighter, who ultimately tames him and they ride off into the sunset, or leaves her with her father. He falls for the strange girl, whose startled by the emotion that he brings out in her, she like any gunfighter is not used to such attention and the thoughts and feelings that they experience. Fighting against her natural urges and actions, doing what a vampire does best. Placing all this action in Iran is even braver.
A female lead, who plays on the fears of Islamic extremism in the guise of a horror. Does that make a female lead more acceptable, or get under the radar of censorship? Either way it’s playing against type completely for not just the horror genre but for cinema as a whole. Placing a woman in the protagonist role, the bad guy who has to be either killed or tamed. I couldn’t see a way to her demise happening. Could Arash have seen beyond her perceived innocence to see the truth? That’s the question we are left with, after all the violence she has caused, for good or bad she has done her bit to clean up Bad City the only way she knows how. As a gunfighter can only use his guns – using violence to bring peace to the town/city they are in.
In terms of horror it’s maybe not as scary as you hope, the ideas it explores and subvert make up for the lack of horror. When we do get it, it’s all about the build up, wondering how she will bite. Its the final attack that leaves you in awe as she rescues the damsel in distress. The moments which are slowed down create a sense of real awe and spectacle heightened by the black and white cinematography, be them horror or not. For me the real strength of the film is gender swapping of roles a Western in the guise of a horror, which for me is an added bonus. Ultimately it’s a refreshing film that takes our fears, placing them in a completely foreign country.
It’s hard to un-see what I saw last night, Bone Tomahawk (2015) much like Under the Skin (2013) is one of those films with imagery so striking that a nights sleep just can’t shake off to be just another memory of a film. Where Under the Skin was pure sci-fi, this, Bone Tomahawk is a blending of horror and the Western, something that is rarely done. We’ve had the Gothic before in The Beguiled (1971) which had an effect on me, but not as strong as this more recent encounter.
I’ve tended to avoid genre mixes when it comes to the Western, such as Cowboys and Aliens (2011) feelings it wasn’t true to the genre and just plain silly. Still it’s only film and just having fun, a format where anything can potentially happen. So what made me change my mind when it came to Tomahawk? I guess its the combination of Kurt Russell and the idea that the fictional race of Troglodytes that we fear throughout the film. Having the same if not worse label applied to Native Americans which are now living among the town of Bright hope with. These are treated much the same as the classical Native Americans were treated, spoken of but rarely seen and from a distance when they are. Minimal broken dialogue when they have that luxury. Here the Native American’s treated as almost equal, seen as the professor (Zahn McClarnon) who still receives his share of racism.
There are of course comparisons to The Searchers (1956) which I have also been made, which I was looking out for. Where the original had two riders John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter there was an equal balance of racism against forward modern thinking. Ethan Edwards (Wayne) driven by racism that makes him either want to rescue or kill his niece (Natalie Wood) who has by the end is by the end if the film part of Scar’s Comanche tribe. In Edwards eyes she is no longer white, a squaw by no choice of her own is better off dead than alive. What makes him change his mind has long been questioned. Does love for her overwhelm him, has his 1/4 Comanche nephew influenced him, or has he grown tired of all the hate that is inside of him? I’m not going to answer that, I’ll leave that to you.
In the more recent film there are four riders, not the classic two who go in search of the doctors nurse Samantha (Lili Simmons) along with the deputy sheriff. The first thought is “Indians” who have captured them, until its proved wrong by the only Native American, whose knowledge puts the white people to shame, even though he dresses as a white man he still very much of his own race. They respect his knowledge, except for the only polarizing character Brooder (Matthew Fox) who is not ashamed to speak his racist mind. Much like that Republican candidate at the moment. Yet there is more anger to his tone as we learn more, he too has killed his fair share of Native Americans, as we learn with good reason. He fears he hasn’t killed enough too which is worrying the other men who have come to accept (more or less) the Natives as neighbours.A lot of water has gone under the bridge in this end of the century Western that is more concerned with doing the right thing that shooting aimlessly. The racism is about the racism in the genre and dealing with it in the genre that its contained within. Before we have to be confront with the genres biggest fears.
The racism’s counteracted by the others, mainly the older back-up deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins) the Walter Brennan of the film, his life experience gives him the licence to questions Brooders thinking that alienates him from the other three. Lead by Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) who is ready for action but knows that the law is bigger than him. Very much a mature role for Russell who tends shoot first and think second. Here in his second Western role in as many films is a man if the world that’s prepared for action but know he has to follow it to enforce it. He may have the lead role but he doesn’t steal it from the other actors, he’s a team player which makes for a more balanced film. The Sheriff leads but doesn’t dictate to the others.
We first encounter the Troglodytes at the beginning of the film, it’s a black figure that delivers unspeakable gore (in a Western) we are left with a blurred image of what we believe we have just seen. Was it an “Indian” in disgiuse or caught at an obscure angle or for a few seconds not allowing us time to work out what the hell just happened. We don’t see these sub-human creatures until much later. However their presence is felt through out the film, we are teased all the time by their suggested presence. You can’t rest easy until Chicory cracks a line or rebukes Brooders.
There’s the added tension of Arthur (Patrick Wilson) whose wife has been kidnapped, comes with an injured man, limping around to the point that he might not make it. Also coming with a grudge towards Brooder who was once his love rival, he resents Brooders presence, who is there out of duty of care and feeling responsible. A gentlemen to a fault that becomes his downfall. No one is safe in this film, you can’t tell who is next for being killed off. It’s very open and unpredictable which makes it so engaging. The gore which I usually don’t go for, and isn’t find in the genre, usually the cruelty is off-screen or only mentioned by others. To see it happening, we are confronted by it and nowhere to hide.
It’s something I just can’t shake right now and maybe that’s the point which will probably stay with me for a long time to come. Maybe this is the film that will be see me more Westerns crossed with other genres, not to take it too seriously, to celebrate it and critique it. I’ve already accepted comdies so why not sci-fi, along with horror as I did last night.