A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the feature debut from writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour tagged “The first Iranian vampire Western”.
Honestly, that’s all they had to say. I was immediately onboard.
If you’re on the same wavelength as me, then you’re constantly demanding that mainstream pop-culture artifacts have levels of self-awareness peppered with latent social criticism. In other words, I appreciate when they acknowledge the questionable effort I put into my humanities degree. I’m a huge fan of genre films but find that the majority end up being various magnitudes of forgettable. Happily, that’s not the case with A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.
The premise is fairly broad. A young man named Arash (Arash Marandi) struggles to look after his heroin-addicted father while running afoul of the sadistic local drug-dealer/pimp Saeed (Dominic Rains, Jinn, Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Behind the scenes is a seemingly young woman played by Sheila Vand (Argo, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) who is actually a vampire. She stalks the streets at night in the fictional Iranian town Bad City. It’s hard to go into too much more detail because A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is defined by its atmosphere which is expertly crafted by Amirpour who adapted the film from her own short of the same name. The film is pretty lean on story, but it’s all about style.
The movie relies heavily on visuals backed by an awesome Iranian rock/pop(?) soundtrack. Shot in stark black-and-white, there’s a lot to unpack visually and I don’t think it takes much critical thinking to know that some latent (and some more obvious) social criticisms are at work.
I’m sure there are facets of national Iranian politics that are over my head and I also can’t speak to the specific cultural artifacts when it comes to the politics of women, poverty, substance abuse, Iran and religion. But of course a lot of those issues are pretty universally identifiable even if in broad metrics.
I’ve seen skeptical opinions that political ideologies can nestle comfortably in a film’s story. I would disagree. A Girl Walks Home at Night is seamless. The politics are part of the characters’ stories and the geography is a world itself. It’s accessible and engrossing. The world is so convincingly seamless, that I was surprising to discover that the film was shot in Taft, Southern California rather than Iran.
Beyond the film’s stylistic distinctiveness, the vampire element is surprisingly refreshing. No doubt, vampire movies have become pretty passé. I’m sure your eyes rolled into the back of your head at the first appearance of the word in this review. And I relate to your apathy.
Maybe it’s tied up in never getting over the end of Buffy, maybe it was Twilight and its latent patriarchal Mormon values, or Tom Cruise’s (Interview with the Vampire) decline in popularity, or that no one wants to look too closely into the truth behind the uncannily youthful features of either Nicholas Cage or Keanu Reeves. Anyone else uncomfortable with the verisimilitude of Vampire’s Kiss or Bram Stoker’s Dracula? But sometime between the release of The Lost Boys in 1987 and Lost Boys: The Tribe, its 2008 direct-to-dvd sequel, vampires stopped being cool.
However, A Girl Walks Home at Night does a fantastic job of resting comfortably in the mythology of vampires and pop culture. It deftly wields the common vampire tropes in something relatable and familiar. It’s speaking a cinematic language that’s pretty widely understood and that’s something that resonates.
It’s hard to emphasize how much I enjoyed the movie and how satisfying it was. Its use of genre feels original.
A caveat: the movie might not be everyone’s cup of tea. The story, dialogue and exposition is all very sparse, and the pace is fairly slow. But the movie is so confident, it just gives off an aura of cool. Maybe it’s the combo of black-and-white and mid 20th century pastiche, or just the image of The Girl riding a skateboard down the street, but I can’t help but get sucked in by A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.