When I first planned to sit down to watch A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, I had to look up what the Iranian “Vampire Western” was about, from Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour, director of The Bad Batch. I hadn’t really enjoyed The Bad Batch, finding it to be a little light on story. So I didn’t really know what I was in for with its predecessor.
The predecessor being, of course, the Persian-language Iranian-American 2014 film A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. So I decided to learn a little about the movie as possible. The only thing I knew about it going in was that it was about a female skateboarding vampire who preys on ne’er-do-well, evil men.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night takes place in the fictional Iranian town of Bad City. Since Amirpour has a penchant for choosing blasted, desert landscapes and ghost towns, the setting was perfect for the film. Arash (Arash Marandi, Under The Shadow) is a young, hardworking Iranian man with a big heart. Cutting a handsome figure with his James Dean clothes and hairstyle in the very first scene, we see him smoking a cigarette in an abandoned construction site. He’s smoking and contemplating if he should rescue a tubby, friendly cat who he sees on his way home from work.
He rescues the cat, who isn’t given a name (with a cognizant performance by Masuka the cat). Arash then takes the cat home to where he takes care of his heroin-addicted father Hossein (Marshall Manesh) in their tiny, squalid apartment. Saeed (Dominic Rains, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) is a drug-dealing pimp who turns up at their home, harassing Arash for payment. He eventually steals Arash’s prized possession-a beautiful vintage car that he worked hard to pay for. The next day while at work, Arash is despondent over his loss. He decides to steal a pair of diamond earrings from Shaydah (Rome Shandanloo), his wealthy young employer. He means to offer Saeed the earrings for his car back.
Meanwhile, Saeed is, that very evening, seduced by a beautiful young woman (Sheila Vand, Prospect, The Rental) wearing a chador, whom he meets in the street. She seduces him, he takes her back to his place, she begins the seduction by licking his finger…and from there Saeed quickly realizes he invited in more than he bargained for.
Hossein plays a fairly typical manipulative type that will score drugs at any cost because drugs run his life. And his character is pretty easy to hate for ruining Arash’s life. But it is his role in the climax of the film which is heartbreaking. The movie is definitely a feminist critique of morals, but it’s fun and interesting watching those situations play out. Although heavy on atmosphere, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night does not suffer for it.
I actually enjoyed this movie a lot. Certain moments in it reminded me strongly of the original Swedish film Let The Right One In, another vampire movie I loved. It also strongly invokes Todd Browning’s atmospheric retelling of Dracula. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night has not too convoluted a plot, and it’s well-executed and well-paced. It avoids stereotypes, and maybe even pokes a little bit of fun at the existing vampire stereotypes in films. Seeing Arash in his Halloween costume at the club is adorable, for sure. Most of all, the chemistry between Arash and the Girl is pure, innocent, and very sweet. One of my favourite parts of the whole film is watching the two of them together.
The reason why is because the Girl delivers so many emotions so clearly and so effectively just with her telling eyes, in complete silence. The Girl, who has no other name in the film, is given a relentless, hair-raising performance by the enigmatic Sheila Vand. Her eyes dominate the screen, pulling the viewer in with her hypnotic gaze. She absolutely kills it as a vampire, whether she is dancing to old records in her lightless basement apartment or skateboarding down the street in her chador.
The other characters, besides the Girl, both charmed and delighted me in the film A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. In addition to Arash, his father, and the Girl, there is a prostitute named Atti (Mozhan Marno, The Black List). We learn she is more connected to Hossein and Saeed than she lets on. Watching these characters go about their lives in this seedy Iranian underworld of Bad City almost gives me more joy than wondering what their motivations are for their actions.
Briefly, we meet a street urchin (Milad Eghbali), with whom the Girl has a hair-raising scene with that is just electric. “Be a good boy,” she rasps at him, clutching his ratty coat fiercely. “I will be watching you all your life.” Between her steady diet of homeless people, pimps, and drug addicts, you almost worry she’ll eat this little boy. It’s enough to send shivers down your spine.
I enjoyed this visual, and many others, in A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Brilliant cinematographer Lyle Vincent, (Cooties, The Woman In Black) is in fine form here, ensuring each long, silently encroaching shot is well-lit. Fittingly, it is a black and white film as well, giving it the proper Bela Lugosi treatment. At one point in the film, famously, the Girl is riding the skateboard she has lifted from the terrified street urchin, hunting her next prey in the dark of night. The chador she wears has a creepy tendency to float behind her as she softly skateboards, giving the illusion that she is almost bat-like.
It’s visuals like these that every vampire film aficionado can enjoy with relish. Even the soundtrack is on point, “Death” by rock band White Lies blasting as The Girl and Arash tenderly embrace at one point. Giving the impression that maybe The Girl listens to the band The Cure, too. While she’s not out terrorizing and sucking the blood of hapless, immoral male victims
All in all, the only thing disappointing about this film for me was, again, how long I had waited to see it. I’m very glad I did. It’s a vampire film to put in the collection to enjoy again and again with all the other spooky stories. It’s rife with redeemable, loveable characters, both great and small. Best watched at night, the film A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night knocks it out of the dark and gloomy park with atmospheric dread foreboding.