In this century, properties like Twilight, Vampire Academy, and even things like Underworld and Blade have infantilized the vampire genre. Being overtly focused on relationship drama for the girls or supernatural action for the boys, few recent vampire movies are prepared to approach these creatures of the night with any nuance or depth. Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a much-welcome departure from this recent dumbing-down. This self-described Iranian vampire spaghetti-western dwells in darkness and challenges us to squint after it. Shot in black-and-white widescreen, it weaves a cold, moody tone with ideas of revenge, vigilantism, and feminine strength – but also hope and love in the face of bleak surroundings.
Set in the fictional Iranian ghost-town of Bad City, the story involves very few characters and a bare-bones plot but manages to generate an overpowering feeling of discomfort and darkness. Our main male protagonist, Arash (played by Arash Marandi), is always struggling to pay off his junkie father’s debts, and most recently is involved with a pimp named Saeed (Dominic Rains). Saeed is your standard exploiter of women. He takes advantage of his prostitutes, intimidates everyone he meets, and is generally self-obsessed, with a real hipster/douchebag vibe to boot. One night while in his car with a prostitute, he is spooked by a girl in his mirror. When he looks up for her, she is gone. This unnerves him to the point that he kicks the prostitute to the curb without paying and begins angrily walking home. On his way, he runs into another girl, walking alone and clad in a dark chador. This is the girl that will soon eat him.
This is our introduction to the eponymous girl, played by Sheila Vand. She stalks the dark streets of Bad City, and Vand imbues her with an aloof confidence that is strangely intimidating yet alluring. Because, despite the bleak environment, she owns a sexuality that stands as both a challenge to the world around her, and an expression of her own desires – even the nefarious ones. When she meets Arash, their relationship blossoms into a lone light in this dark world, and you find yourself drawn into their strange tryst. Much is left unstated, but there is a haunting beauty here that is unmistakeable.
The true strength of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is how it successfully incorporates a multitude of disparate elements into a cohesive unit. Sometimes, it is spooky and weird, or funny and adorable. Other times, you feel the symbolism of the submissive chador being repurposed as an intimidating cowl. The film challenges the viewer to be okay with a relatively simple plot and lets the tone of the film do much of the heavy lifting. It is able to get away with this with its immaculate technical skill and some amazing shot composition that grabs your attention and forces you to take it all in almost subconsciously. This is a great vampire film that challenges its audience with more than sped-up battles without weight or consequence. We are fortunate here to get a rich piece that rewards its viewers with complex ideas and a unique flavor, and it certainly deserves to be sought out.