It’d be far too easy to solely blame the Twilight phenomenon, but recent cinematic vampirism has been defined by a severe lack of mojo. Twilight just proved bloodsuckers can be as mopey as a hormonal teenager (and as vacuous as a Hollister model, or Taylor Lautner). Their small screen incarnations, True Blood and The Vampire Diaries, gave vamps a good dose of sexy but, under the silken surfaces, the bite was lacking. Where were the smarts? The fear? The ‘cool’? Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, remembers to bring all those ingredients back to the table, and casts them in a familiar, but very tasty mould.”
It’s plain bad luck for Amirpour that one of her primary stylistic influences, Jim Jarmusch, beat her to this particular punch. Only Lovers Left Alive was a woozily intelligent elegy for art and artistry of times past. With their inability to age, vampirism proved a clever narrative tool for Jarmusch. That said, as wonderful as OLLA is, there wasn’t much in the way of menace to its leading bloodsucking duo. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night keeps the ‘cool’ and ups the threat. The action centres on a vampire we only ever know as The Girl (Sheila Vand), and this inability to know her already singles this character out as something special. Though petite and fair of face, there is an inherent creepiness to her movements, and her hijab and striped jumper combo, like an emo apparition; it should prove popular come Halloween. Vand is a mesmerising study in stillness and loneliness; as with so many vampires, we must presume she’s been a bloodsucker for quite some time. Her soft eyes convey a warmth, while the rest of her body language hints at danger. It’s a lethal combination.
Another reason we don’t know this Girl as well as we’d like is because A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night doesn’t have the feel or shape of any typical vampire film. Though shrouded in shadows and stillness, the look of the film is as much that of Lynch’s Eraserhead as of Browning’s Dracula. The film has been pitched as the first Iranian Vampire Western; though shot in the U.S. with American funding, the film takes place entirely in Farsi. Amirpour claims Sergio Leone as a big influence, and the fictional setting of Bad City plays like so many Western towns, with oil pumps churning and bad guys running amok. Instead of one big bad, the demon ruling the roost here is heroin addiction, and it’s a world in which our nominal leading man Arash (Arash Marandi) is regretfully caught up. With an addict father and a bleak outlook, this drifter wannabe finds solace in an unlikely urban avenger with a penchant for stripes and nocturnal strolls. Despite her tastes and his background, there is a lovely innocence to this pair. An unspoken electricity passes between them as he slowly approaches her for a tentative first kiss. It plays like a hipster Wong Kar-Wai moment, soundtracked by a slow-build White Lies track. Love and tension are evoked masterfully, as we can’t guess how this will end. The film is full of such moments, full of different shades of dread.
Whilst never setting foot there, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night frames Iran in very cinematic terms, as worthy a host to boogeymen as any cabin in the woods, and home to as many pimps and dope fiends as any American city. All this works because of the references to what has gone before. The Girl is defined by her flowing robe, and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is defined by its influences, which it wears brashly and confidently. There are generous helpings of German Expressionism here; A scene in which the Girl terrorizes a little boy brings Nosferatu to mind, but in a new wardrobe and a very new locale. David Lynch is can be heard in the dim hum of silences before some new fright strikes. Lyle Vincent’s swooning B&W lensing helps the film acknowledge its influences whilst staying just the right side of self-aware. Meanwhile, the eclectic soundtrack sets the mood as required, from exotic to dread-filled at the turn of the dial. Amirpour has said she wanted to make a film in which everything seen and said was ‘shit that she loved’ (her words). There’s the rub; is the experience of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night dependent on the audience sharing her tastes? She knows good films, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Any other over-stylized choices are overcome by the fascinating robed creature at the heart of it all. It has ‘cool’ aplenty, but A Girl… is all about The Girl. Amirpour’s next film, whatever it may be, will have to work hard to match the balance between style and thoughtfulness achieved here.