The title alone raises expectations; it cuts right to the bone to the lack of imagination and flagrant misogyny that has plagued horror films over the last few decades. It screams ‘women in peril,’ yet to make this so overt at the outset – for the filmmakers to make us aware that they’re aware, you’d have to think that this shared awareness is surely a good sign.
Made in the USA, and produced by Elijah Wood of all people, it’s in the Farsi language, yet you couldn’t really call it a Persian film, nor would you necessarily call it American, it’s something in between, and that’s what makes it so fascinating. Particularly when it trots out tag lines like ‘Persian Vampire Western.’
It opens with clichéd cinematic cool, looking like a Calvin Klein advertisement, in gorgeous black and white monochrome, jeans and white t-shirt, cigarette clenched, leaning on a fence. It’s cinematic rebellion, shorthand for cool, shooting for icon status, yet it’s also the first of the many references to the likes of Jim Jarmusch, and other hip indie auteurs.
It’s also a harbinger for the remainder of the film, which whilst brimming with numerous original ideas, also possesses an unmistakable, and unmistakably cinematic self-awareness. Later in the extra features we see the director Ana Lily Amirpour sporting a t-shirt with Jodorowsky emblazoned across it. Again, great influences. There’s a sleazy drug dealer with facial tattoos clearly modelled on Ninja from Die Antwoord, a super cool soundtrack which veers from spaghetti westernesque soundscapes to retro 80’s popisms, all set in a highly stylised fictional world that draws on influences as diverse as Sin City, Rumble Fish and Nadja. In fact there are strong links with Nadja, the ultra stylised 1994 black and white feature from Michael Almereyda, with a dark mysterious female with pointy teeth inhabiting a strange other worldly dreamscape.
Yet it purely isn’t the sum of its influences, Amirpour is incredibly adept at setting up a scene with minimal ingredients and delaying gratification. She also has an incredible eye for using these minimal ingredients to create distinctive cinematic moments, such as when our heroine skates down the road in the dead of night with her black chador billowing like a cape, simultaneously reverential to vampire films of yore, but also offering an urban multicultural somewhat hip perspective as well. Everything floats along in a woozy stylish monochromatic fever dream; movements, even whole scenes are slowed down, playing out like a pop video, all pulsing, booming, overwhelming feasts for the senses. Perhaps it’s an exercise in style, but there’s a definite confidence, even perhaps audaciousness in not only crafting this stylish world, but also allowing us the time to just sink into it – particularly for a debut feature.