Vampires might be supernatural sex symbols, but they are also always first and foremost misery symbols. A recent stellar example of this would be Let The Right One In (as well as the underappreciated remake Let Me In, which gets better with every viewing) and now Ana Lily Amirpour’s hauntingly beautiful directorial debut A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Drawing inspiration from a broad scope of influences including (but not limited to) underground comics, recent feminist genre inversions, and early Jim Jaramusch films, this delightfully disturbing little flick serves as a reminder of the poignancy and tragedy of vampire lore as well as an example of how magical it can be when art house intensions and genre tropes meet in the middle.
The story takes place in nightmare vision of Iran’s Tehran, here referred to as Bad City (though weirdly it was shot in California even though all of the dialogue is Persian). Our initial protagonist is the skintight jeans sporting hipster Arash (Arash Marandi) who wonders the streets looking cool and feeling alone (the two tends to go hand-in-hand). Arash’s father Hossein (Marshall Manesh) is a drug addict who owes sacks of money to seemingly Bad City’s lone criminal, porn stache proud sleazebucket Saeed (Dominic Rains), who also owns n’ abuses a middle aged prostitute named Atti (Mozhan Marno). The sad lonely tragedy and awkward comedy of these four lives bump into each other for a while as we’re also introduced to the title character. Credited as The Girl (Sheila Vand), she’s a mostly mute vampire who dons her chador at night to wonder the shadows and feast on the blood of men who abuse women. Eventually, The Girl targets Saeed and in a weirdo meets cute moment is also introduced to Arash at a costume party in which he is dressed as a vampire. A love story forms between The Girl and Arash, but the sad painful kind that could only unfold within the baron industrial landscape of Bad City.
More than anything else, Ana Lily Amirpour has crafted a mood piece in her first feature. Shot in gloriously evocative low-fi black and white and backed by an all Iranian 80s-infused pop soundtrack (likely inspired from the music of the era when The Girl became The Vampire), the movie creeps up your shivering spine and into your brain. Amirpous wears her influences openly, pulling compositions and tone from underground comics, monochromatic photography and deadpan loner comedy from early Jim Jarmusch movies (Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law, etc.), and the soundscape and landscape of David Lynch’s Eraserhead (amongst others). Thankfully, this isn’t merely a case of a film feeling like a mixtape of scenes from the director’s favourite flicks. As liberally as Amirpour steals from the past, she still delivers a final product that’s entirely her own. The film casts a unique spell all its own, equal parts haunting, moving, funny, and mysterious.
The performances are strong throughout, with a collection of eccentric characters populating Amirpour’s rigidly composed frames. Yet, it has to be said that the young director frequently gets as lost in her own woozy fever dream in the same way that her audience will. As beautiful and creepy as A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is to behold, it’s also often just beautiful and creepy for the sake of it. Long passages of the film pass that exist purely to prolong the atmosphere, few characters bolster a psychology deeper than their image-conscious type, and Amirpour often falls on the wrong side of the line between mysterious ambiguity and lazy screenwriting. The film is flawed to be sure, yet it’s important to remember that this is very much a debut effort from an emerging artist. If Amirpous drops the ball a few times while finding her voice, she does so in a manner that all first-time filmmakers must while learning their craft on the job. Picking apart a film this personal and bizarre falls more into the realm of nitpicking than honest analysis. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a beautifully frightening art horror film from a fresh director who is hopefully only just getting started at having her way with the genre. Even in a year in which we’ve already seen an official Jim Jarmusch vampire movie (Only Lovers Left Alive), this film feels unique and special. Something to tickle audiences who don’t see much of a divide between the art house and the grindhouse.