FYI :Rules of the Netflix List Blitz
- I’ll watch and write about every movie currently on my list. Pretty simple first rule there.
- I’m not obligated to finish a movie. I can’t think of any movie I’ve ever seen that started off horribly for more than twenty minutes and then ended up being worth the watch. A slow start or lull is fine, but if I get a sense what I’m watching is truly bad–in a completely uninteresting way–I reserve the right to abandon flick.
- I’m only watching movies on my list, not television series. Bates Motel, you’ll have to wait.
- I’m going in order of the current state of the list. Which, for the purposes of any smattering of readers who may start following along, is going to make this list appear quite random.
- I’m strictly going to write what I feel. Some entries may be in depth, some may focus less on the movie itself than on some outside thoughts the movie planted in my head, and some may entries may be improbably brief. (Given my propensity for longwindedness, don’t bet too much on that last one.)
I try to take an inclusive approach to stories some may consider to be on the fringe of the horror genre. There is an unfortunate history of stories being labeled as thrillers or supernatural thrillers solely because they’ve been deemed “too good” for horror. There is an equally unfortunate history of horror fans excluding stories that they feel aren’t “really” horror stories, because, well, pick a reason. Not bloody enough (even though John Carpenter’s Halloween is practically blood free), not “scary” enough (even though scary is entirely subjective), has too much drama / comedy / tragedy, so on and so forth. I try to reject such exclusive approaches to genre fare because I feel it diminishes the genre, robbing it of some great movies for biased, shortsighted reasons.
I say all of this now because A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is considered by many to be one of the finer horror films to come out in recent years. And it is indeed a fine film. It doesn’t strike me, however, as a horror story.
The press release for the film labeled it a “vampire western.” Yes, I know, “Death of the Author” suggests that the people actually behind the making of the film (or, in this case, perhaps just the publicity) aren’t necessarily the authorities on what the film is or what it means. One of these days I’ll probably get into my many qualms with “Death of the Author” on here, but just because I don’t subscribe to that particular essay (or the “interpretation” of it that people who seemingly haven’t read the essay have taken to in recent years), I don’t believe that the Author Knows Best either. Despite what Ana Lily Amirpour may say of her film, it doesn’t strike me as much of a “western”.
Various people slapped a lot descriptors on this film, and the word “strange” or something synonymous shows up in several reviews. Maybe that makes me strange, because the film I watched wasn’t nearly as odd as I expected it to be. Vampirism aside, this would be a relatively straight-forward, well made crime drama. But, of course, you can’t simply set a vampire aside.
This is the story of a painfully lonely, distant woman whose condition understandably leaves her disconnected and bored with the world. She occupies her time listening to music by herself, scaring random little kids because it’s something to do, and maybe skateboarding down the street because hell, why not. That, and eating people.
Described that way, the vampirism could certainly be seen as a gimmick. She could suffer from a lot of other real world afflictions that would render her a lonely, distant, bored person. One of the great things about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is that the vampirism is treated as intrinsic to the character. Sure, it doubles as a metaphor for, well, whatever any viewer wants it to be a metaphor of at any given time, but for this character, her condition is meaningful to her. You couldn’t swap the vampirism out for clinical depression, for instance, without fundamentally altering the character. She’s not a vampire that’s really something else. She’s a vampire, and she’s also a person with a personality. She’s a valuable, worthwile lead character, in short. As is the young man she encounters and builds an uncertain relationship.
The young man has reasons to feel disconnected as well. He is wanting, he is struggling, he is also alone, and he is burdened by a heroin addicted father whose drug-related debts help kick off the story. The father’s pusher has taken the son’s prized car to cover the aforementioned debts. The son knows the exact number of days he worked and saved to be able to buy the car, and then in one night it’s taken from him through no fault of his own. He in turn resorts to theft to try to pay off what his father owes and buy his precious car back. Unbeknownst to him until he arrives, the pusher has encountered our vampire and met with a fate befitting a coked-up gangster-pimp who tried to seduce a supernatural bloodsucker.
From there the story is a slow burn, dark and patient and compelling. It never really tries to be frightening or even unsettling, though. In fact, it feels thoroughly disinterested in affecting or exploring fear. There is the one scene, where the vampire menaces the child, that might be considered tense or disturbing to some, but it feels apparent early on that it’s just a scene of a bored woman taking part in halfhearted bullying to make herself feel better–or just feel something–and to kill some time. It also plants the seed for a plot development later to come. But it’s not in any way interested in being frightful, and doesn’t need to be. All of this takes me back to my initial thought on this matter, as to whether or not it’s a horror story. Ultimately that shouldn’t matter much, except I do love my preferred genre, and I love for it to be able to claim good stories for itself. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is very good. But does a grim, dour tale featuring a vampire automatically make it a horror story? Doesn’t it need to be at least somewhat invested in attempting to horrify?
Well, I obviously don’t have the authority to give more than my opinion, rather than definitive “answers” to those questions. And in my opinion, while a story can absolutely be a horror drama, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night has no evident aspirations toward being a horror story. But you won’t find me trying to correct anyone who wants to put such a quality movie in the horror genre. I would, after all, rather be inclusive.
Up Next: Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong