There’s a familiar joke about hipsters being obsessed with “liking things before it was cool.” It’s funny, of course, because the truest fan isn’t the one who liked a trend before it was cool: it’s the one who still likes it after it isn’t. It’s the obvious and genuine love for a genre that in theory passed its sell-by date that explains how in 2014, a few years after angsty lovelorn vampires have given way to dystopian teenagers in the pop culture lexicon, the undead would fittingly rise again in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.
The aptly titled film, advertised as an “Iranian vampire-Western”, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2014, then got only a limited theatrical release in November. I finally got the chance when it was released on Netflix just last week. It might seem intimidating since it’s black-and-white and in Persian, but it’s very cool and unique and it’s got a skateboarding girl vampire in a chador.
It centers on a ghost town in Iran known only as Bad City, which to no one’s surprise is ravaged by crime and poverty. The characters are archetypal and few in number: there’s Arash, who looks like a ’50s greaser; Hossein, his junkie father; Saeed, a tattooed drug dealer; and Atti, an aging prostitute. And there’s a vampire, known only as The Girl. By day, she stays indoors, rocks a Parisian chic choppy bob and striped shirt, and fixes up her eyeliner while dancing alone to a pretty awesome music collection. By night, she dons a chador, roams Bad City’s desolate streets, and sucks people’s blood. There’s a vigilante aspect to her feedings: she mostly preys on low-life thugs and criminals, like a lady vampire Batman. Who skateboards.
Aptly titled and highly stylized, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is very much a “style over substance” film, but the style is fantastic. Shot in black and white, the movie boasts gorgeous cinematography and scene composition (there’s a great early moment when Arash, walking through the desolate oil fields and wastelands of the movie’s unique setting, passes a ditch full of what appears to be trash but turns out to be piles of dead bodies). The soundtrack is killer too, an eclectic mix of Middle Eastern rock, club music, and scores straight out of a spaghetti western.
Since it’s in Persian, you’ll most likely have to read the subtitles, but there’s very little dialogue; both The Girl (played by the beautiful Sheila Vand from Argo) and Arash (played by Arash Marandi, also very easy on the eyes) do a good job expressing emotion and inner turmoil without much to say, however. The scenes are very slow and drawn-out on screen, but when you’re watching, the time actually goes by pretty fast. The pacing isn’t always perfect—some scenes take just a little too long—but overall the moody, sometimes surreal atmosphere works.
Impressively, this is the debut film of director Ana Lily Amirpour. She’s said in interviews that she didn’t see the movie as a feminist statement, but a lot of reviewers did. There’s the female bloodsucker who’s a main character and not a campy, uber-sexualized villainess. There’s the title, which flips the script on the usual formula of woman as victim in horror movies. The Girl’s on-screen victims are mostly men, many of whom are seen abusing women. And there’s the chador The Girl wears when stalking her prey. Muslim women’s veils have inspired much controversy, what with Iranian laws mandating women to wear them and French laws banning them from doing so; perhaps no garment has been so hotly debated in terms of gender politics. It’s easy to see many feminist readings of the film.
I enjoyed this movie. It’s a fresh, hip, very ambitious picture and makes for a very cool watch and it’s hard not to love a sexy dude who dresses like James Dean and did I mention a skateboarding girl vampire in a chador? I look forward to more of Amirpour’s work; between her inspired synthesis of diverse genre influences and great ear for music, I could almost see her as Quentin Tarantino-esque in terms of making super cool and unique films like nobody else’s. Her next movie, The Bad Batch, will star Jason Momoa (who played Khal Drago on Game of Thrones) and English model Suki Waterhouse (who is no longer dating Bradley Cooper, making room for Jennifer Lawrence and/or me). Amirpour has described it as “a cannibal love story” set in a “post-apocalyptic Texas wasteland” and “Road Warrior meets Pretty in Pink with a dope soundtrack”. How can you not want to see that?!