Revisionist horror is some of my favorite, especially when it deals with themes and ideas that have been done to death in the traditional sense. Show me something I haven’t seen before, please I beg of you. When it comes to vampires, they’ve pretty much been handled every single way possible, from jagged-toothed monsters to misunderstood sparklers. However, I don’t think they’ve been handled quite this way before, certainly not coupled with all of the other things that make Ana Lily Amirpour’s film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the world’s first Iranian vampire western. That alone is reason to watch it, but it also happens to be fantastic, which makes it even better.
Shot entirely in Taft and Bakersfield, CA, and starring Iranian actors living and working in Los Angeles, Amirpour is already doing something most indie filmmakers wouldn’t, so of course she’d go all out with it. A black & white adventure down the harsh streets of what’s meant to be Tehran, Iran, but is referred to as the fictional Bad City, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night could easily be a series of ideas that don’t hang together, but the character relationships are so well drawn, and the acting and cinematography are so haunting, not to mention how awesome the eclectic score is, that everything seems to fit perfectly.
The film begins with Arash (Arash Marandi), a James Dean equivalent, retrieving his pet cat and driving her home in his awesome vintage cherry Cadillac. His father (Marshall Manesh) is a heroin addict mourning the loss of his wife, Arash’s mother, but has run out of money and owes the brash local criminal element Saeed (Dominic Rains), a tattooed and pierced buffoon who deals smack and runs prostitutes. He takes Arash’s car as payment and goes off to collect money from Atti (Mozhan Marno), a hooker who’s “over the hill” at 31. But he’s also been watched by a girl (Sheila Vand) in traditional Persian wear over a striped Jean Seberg shirt. She seems demure and shy, but she’s actually a vampire who doesn’t like people picking on Atti, or anyone. Her life is a lonesome one and she walks the empty streets at night looking for someone to bite. Eventually, she meets Arash who shows her compassion, which she isn’t used to, and the two become enamored. But she’s a vampire, so this can’t possibly work out, right?
The title of the movie evokes the old well-worn horror trope of the innocent young maiden surrounded by evil whatever, but this movie makes that young woman the monster in the dark. Her black covering looks like Dracula’s cape, especially when she rides around on a discarded skateboard. The town of Bad City is nothing but death and bleakness and right at the very beginning we see Arash casually walk by a ravine filled with dead bodies, signifying that this is not the best place to live, and it’s a pretty young girl who loves New Wave music and skateboarding that’s part of the reason for it. She seems to like stalking people, even if she doesn’t kill them, because for her, the fear she instills is part of the fun. The streets are desolate and the homes are barely standing up. “Bad City” is on the nose, but totally apt.
This is a movie that shouldn’t exist and yet, thankfully, does. A Persian-language genre film is nearly impossible if shot in Iran because of the current anti-Western regime, but at no point does this movie feel like it isn’t Persian. It’s surprising to find out this was shot in Taft, CA, because it could easily have been Tehran and the whole thing shot guerrilla style. There are visual references to American movies and genres, but it never feels like a pastiche. The music is a mix of Persian pop music, Morricone-style Spaghetti Western rock, and electronic new wave, which somehow mix together as beautifully as the clashing cultures.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is deep and layered and haunting and beautiful and funny and scary and truly unique. For her first feature, writer-director Amirpour shows a surprising talent for character and visuals. We need to hope she continues making movies of this level because if she’s this impressive with her feature debut, imagine what she’ll be with her second, fifth, or tenth movies. This is a movie that’s not anything like what you think it will be and that’s exactly what you should want. Seek it out, see it immediately.