A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night had me at “Iranian vampire western.” Independent of that awesome description and the fact that the film is being hailed as a genre-bending, artistic, fresh take on vampire mythos, I knew that seeing this film would be important for me, because Ana Lily Amirpour is making history as an Iranian-American female writer-director. Cue my feminist lady boner.
And I was turned on for good reason.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is for all intents and purposes an exploration of good and evil. The Girl, played by Sheila Vand, is an Iranian vampire who stalks the streets of Bad City at night, preying upon men who’ve disrespected women (can you say sinister, scary, feminist anti-hero?). Arash, played by Arash Varandi, is a hardworking, decent young man who has lost his beautiful, vintage car to a pimp thanks to the debts accumulated by his heroin-addicted, prostitute-loving, widowed father. (He also dresses an awful lot like the late, great James Dean.) These two characters collide one night and form a seemingly improbable connection through an Ecstasy high, a Dracula costume, a skateboard, music, and touch—one that could lead to love, understanding, and an escape from Bad City.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, like many of its predecessors, plays an awful lot with the theme of a vampire longing to be human. Arash is the first person (at least in the world of this film) to treat The Girl as a human, not a monster; when they meet, he is not afraid of her. He treats her the way he would treat any other girl on the street—decently. Consequently, in her interactions with Arash, The Girl has an opportunity to experience life as something other than what she inherently is—an undead creature who kills without remorse. And though she is guarded and can’t squash some of her evil impulses, we as audience members start to see that perhaps this monster wants something more than her killer existence.
Now, don’t let this analysis mislead—The Girl is still scary as all hell. When she attacks, it’s brutal and unearthly. She seems devoid of emotion—except when she’s listening to records in her basement apartment (hipster vamp!). She lets her eyes do most of the talking, unnerving her prey with heavily lined lids and a frightening stare. When she does unleash her voice to its fullest, fiendish extend, you’ll feel like you’re watching a scene from The Exorcist. For those who like their monsters both complex and scary, the character of The Girl delivers. She’s a traditional monster in a modern culture with a fascination with being human.
For theatergoers who are all about visual and auditory stimuli, watch this movie immediately! A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is shot in black and white with chiaroscuro everywhere, and it’s entirely in Farsi. The soundtrack is a brilliant marriage of Iranian club music, western-inspired lilts, American indie rock, and the bass-heavy reverberations of heartbeats (which arrive after The Girl has listened to Arash’s heartbeat).
The lighting is brilliant, increasing the inherent tension in many scenes and making Bad City look, well, dreary and bad. Individual shots in the film inspire pure awe. For example, drugs completely and utterly freak me out, yet one of the most gorgeous shots of the whole film involves heroin being heated in a bent, metal spoon. And don’t even get me started with the shots of The Girl on her skateboard with her chador (which resembles both a berka and a nun’s habit) billowing behind her.
Now, I will say that because of how the film is shot and how the story progresses (slowly and at times, awkwardly (but isn’t that how life progresses?)), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is not for mass consumption. You have to like your films artsy and be okay with long shots nearly devoid of action but full of tension and emotion. You can’t walk into the theater and expect this film to be akin to Interview with a Vampire, Daybreakers, or Dracula: Untold. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is absent of Hollywood glitter. It’s gutsy and watches the way an offbeat, literary short story reads.
If you’re looking for a vampire film you haven’t seen before, characters that are compelling, and an experience that will make you yearn to go back to school to study filmmaking, check out A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. And if Ana Lily Amirpour continues to make edgy, dark, brilliant films, I’ll be the first in line to buy a ticket.