I recently had the chance to see A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the feature-length debut of Iranian-American filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour.
Let me say this right off the bat: I’m not really a fan of vampire movies; I could probably count the ones I like on one thumbless hand (Thirst, Vampyr, Let Me In and Afflicted). Sadly, I’ve yet to see the original Let the Right One In or any version of Nosferatu. And, while both were supremely stylish, I didn’t love Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Only Lovers Left Alive as much as I’d hoped.
Oh, did I not mention A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a vampire movie?
The film follows the titular girl, played by Sheila Vand, as she lurks around the aptly-named Bad City, looking for her next victim. As a non-vamp-fan, I’m not sure what interested me in this film in the first place. Was it the fact that it was filmed in black and white (which adds an otherworldly eeriness to the film)? The superbly constructed tagline (“The First Iranian Vampire Western”)? Or was it just curiosity raised from reading an article on Indiewire. Whatever the reason, I kept checking our catalog, hoping that we’d get a copy. When I finally saw it, I quickly put my name on the waiting list.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is both brand new (The Girl–as she’s credited–is a skateboarding, chador-wearing vampire!) and nostalgic (The Girl loves vinyl; the last song she listened to was Lionel Richie’s “Hello”). There’s no end of vampire symbolism; needles attached to heroin-filled syringes pierce the skin of junkies, we’re often shown oil rigs plunging their giant metallic teeth into the ground and slowly sucking Bad City dry. It’s a wonderful amalgamation of pulpy film noir, Midwest ghost towns and Amirpour’s recreation of Iran; the characters speak Farsi, yet it was filmed in the darkened streets of Taft, CA.
The following scene, featuring Vand and her victim(?), the ecstasy-addled Arash (played by Arash Marandi, a.k.a. the Iranian James Dean), could fit into any idyllic indie/hipster drama (not unlike the adorably charming God Help the Girl) and be a delightful scene. But within the confines of the universe that Amirpour has created, it becomes a near-psychedelic trip that raises hairs as it walks a fine line between terror and temptation. Honestly, even if you hate the other ninety-six minutes of this movie, this scene will more than make up for it. It’s magical:
It’s a film that takes its time building the horror and tension, as evidenced by the above scene. Today’s technology-swilling generation, with the attention span smaller than a femtometer, often equates tension-building with boring (have we forgotten the first half of Psycho or the entirety of The Blair Witch Project?). In an arena mostly dominated by jump-scares and senseless gore, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night shines through the fog of horror mediocrity. To be fair, there is some gore in the film, but it’s used in a way that doesn’t make it the punch line of horror; the gore is used as a means, not the end. Plus, it’s in black and white so it isn’t nearly as gruesome as it would be in color (again, like Psycho).
I could go on and on about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night; it’s a film I’ll definitely want to revisit–and recommend–again and again. It made me an instant fan of Amirpour, so I looked up what she’s doing next. Due out in 2016 and starring Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey, her next film is titled The Bad Batch. It’s a love story set in a cannibal commune. I’m not joking. Even if cannibal love stories aren’t your thing, you have to admit that’s a pretty interesting and impressive group of actors for a relative newcomer to assemble.
Do you have a favorite vampire movie? Did you hate the ones I enjoyed? Sound off below!