March 8, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Each year provides us with (at least) a few hidden gems sprinkled amongst the superheroes and newfangled special effects displays, and although this feature film debut from filmmaker Cory Finley is only now hitting theatres, it seems safe to say it likely won’t draw the size audience it deserves. If you enjoy dark, twisted, and devilishly clever films, you owe it to yourself to track down this one.

Olivia Cooke (ME AND EARLY AND THE DYING GIRL) stars as Amanda, someone who walks a miniscule line between neurotic and psychopath. The startling and quite ominous opening features Amanda, a horse, and a large knife. Next, and some time later, we see Amanda re-connecting with her childhood friend and boarding school brainiac Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy, SPLIT and THE WITCH) in what appears to be a tutoring session being held in the palatial estate where Lily lives with her mother and “evil” stepdad Mark (Paul Sparks).

What follows is the mind-bending, winding-road of us attempting to fit either or both of these characters into some “normal” category of human behavior. Instead, what lies beneath is slowly unsheathed. As Amanda and Lily interact, we especially come to realize that Amanda is drawing out what’s behind the proper front that Lily wears on a daily basis. A plot to murder the stepdad is developed, and caught in the wicked web is Anton Yelchin as Tim, a dreamer and schemer who quickly realizes the trouble these two bring. This was one of the last roles Yelchin filmed before his tragic death. His brief time on screen here reminds us of his immense talent.

An atmosphere of dread and pending doom hovers over most every scene, yet somehow it’s simultaneously funny and disturbing. We find ourselves asking if it’s OK to laugh at some of the exchanges. As Amanda explains she’s “not a bad person”, the line makes us chuckle, while also making us realize she actually believes it and we shouldn’t! As she teaches her tutor Lily “the technique”, we become convinced the line has been crossed into psychopathy.

Suburban Connecticut and its corresponding privileged life has rarely generated more queasy feelings, and with our hope for humanity in the balance, we watch Amanda and Lily bounce from plotting to problem solving and from conspiring to collaborating. The absence of empathy goes beyond disconcerting and into a feeling of resolved fear. The lack of emotions and empathy can be more frightening than vampires or fictional monsters.

Cinematographer Lyle Vincent does nice work displaying this world, and he will always deserve a mention after his sterling work on 2014’s A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT. The dark, twisted work is well accompanied by the abrupt and jarring music, and filmmaker Finley deserves recognition for crafting this creepy corner of a universe none of us want to join. His film is in the vein of something Yorgos Lanthimos (THE LOBSTER) might deliver, and that’s quite high praise for oddity … in fact, Odin Impetus Lowe even gets a screen credit, and he’s the opening scene horse!



January 4, 2015


a girl walks home Greetings again from the darkness. This is my third “first feature” from a writer/director this week, but there endeth any similarities. Ana Lily Amirpour presents the first ever Iranian romantic vampire thriller that blends the styles of Spaghetti Westerns, graphic novels and 1950’s rebel flicks, while making a social statement regarding Muslim women.

This festival favorite is an expanded version of Ms. Amirpour’s 2011 short film of the same title, and the use of black and white, combined with cinematographer Lyle Vincent’s extraordinary photography, delivers a beautifully stark dream-like atmosphere that lends itself well to the sparse dialogue approach.

Despite minimal conversation, we quickly recognize Saeed (Dominic Rains) as the ultra-arrogant drug dealer and bullying pimp, Arash (Arash Marandi) as the hard-working dutiful nice guy who sees himself as a would-be James Dean, Hossein (Marshall Manash) as the drug-addicted dad who burdens his son, and Atti (Mozhan Marno) as the aging, powerless prostitute with little hope. There is even the street boy (Milad Eghbali) who sees all and says little … and is the target of the film’s most terrifying scene (and maybe one of the most terrifying bloodless scenes of any horror film).

What really stands out about this low-budget gem is the seamless and effective mixing of genres. In addition to the “vampire” moments, there are a couple of the most quietly erotic scenes that I can recall (including an ear-piercing), and even a quite humorous scene with an under-the-influence Arash mesmerized by a lamp post while wearing a Dracula costume and being observed by a real vampire.

The vampire is played perfectly by Sheila Vand, whose intoxicating eyes and subtle facial gestures convey all whether she is feeding her appetite, being gently seduced by Arash, or slowly coasting on her skateboard. Her only time to unleash pent-up emotions is the previously mentioned scene when she warns “Be a good boy”. Otherwise, she is the lonesome vampire in search of connection who periodically weeds out the bad men – simultaneously improving society and empowering women.

It’s an odd production as the characters speak Farsi, but filming took place outside Bakersfield, California in a locale that fits the story town’s name, Bad City. Any influence of Iranian culture is only evident through interpretation and the excellent cast. The beautiful camera work is complemented by an outstanding and unusual soundtrack … a combination that proves Ms. Amirpour’s eye and feel for storytelling. The minimal dialogue approach is successful thanks to the atmospheric style and the talents of the cast (many of whom will be familiar to American TV and film audiences). It’s an exciting first feature and has many anxiously awaiting the next project from Ana Lily Amirpour.

**NOTE: In the 2011 short film, the vampire was played by Nazanin Boniadi, whom you might recognize as Fara from “Homeland”

watch the trailer: