Director Ana Lily Amirpour is billing A Girl Walks Home at Night Alone as Iran’s first vampire spaghetti western, as though vampire spaghetti western is a popular genre in Hollywood. While entirely in Farsi and featuring an Iranian cast, the film was shot in southern California, which barely passes for Iran. The film is more than just a blend of western and horror though; it has all the superhero vigilantism of The Dark Knight (2008)—without all the explosions. Whenever a film looks at the awkwardness of human-vampire romance, it’s impossible not to think of Twilight (2008), but it is the hauntingly beautiful images and intricate sensory details that make this film a truly unique viewing experience.
The film opens on Arash (Arash Marandi) looking like James Dean in dark sunglassess and a tight white t-shirt as he smokes a cigarette and leans against a dilapidated wall. He then hops around the wall and produces a fluffy cat, which he cuddles as he walks away. Any sense that we’re dealing with a hard-boiled tough guy has evaporated, and for much of the film, his too-cool look is an ironic contrast to his innocent and timid disposition. He is a boy just trying to get by. He struggles to take care of his heroin addicted father and pay his father’s debts to the drug dealer. Yet despite his lonely, hopeless existence, he works hard to afford himself a sole luxury: His pristine 1950s automobile.
Then enters the stranger to the ghost town. Instead of riding in on a horse, the anonymous Girl (Sheila Vand) patrols the nighttime streets of Bad City on a skateboard, her chador flying behind her like a superhero cape. To select her prey, she shadows and sometimes interrogates those who wander alone at night—and then she becomes a ‘moral authority.’ Those who are criminals get eaten, yet she is not entirely just in her killings. At one point, she snaps the neck of a homeless man, who appears innocent.
Despite the barren mood and sense of hopelessness that permeates the film, Amirpour also brings a subtle, ironic sense of humour. When Arash meets the Girl on his way back from a costume party, he is dressed as Dracula and struggling to speak through his phony plastic fangs. In the intimate scene that follows, they embrace, and Arash’s costume no longer seems to be a disguise, but rather a point of similarity for himself and the Girl.
The true power of the film comes from the focus on the auditory and visual details that make the realistic equally as disturbing as the horrific.The hiss of heroin boiling in a bent spoon manages to be just as chilling as the the crunch of a finger between the girl’s fangs. The camera indulges and lingers on the tragic, beautiful images of Bad City. The shots of oil drills moving in a robotic back and forth rhythm and a mangy dog limping through the desert show the truth of Bad City—it is isolated and hostile to love and hope.
There is not a whole lot of dialogue in the film, so Amirpour relies on images to tell the story, and she does so exquisitely. In the long take of Arash and the Girl moving in slow motion through her apartment, not much happens physically; he gets up from the bed and rests his head on hers. This simple movement is laced with suspense and meaning. Each of Arash and the Girl’s tiny movements enthralls us, as the soundtrack repeats over and over, “This fear’s got a hold on me”—another humorous nod to the Girl’s vampire existence. Here are two people alone and unloved with no one watching out for them. They have made mistakes yet they struggle for justice. And despite the incompatibility of an anonymous vampire and a naive youth, they find a connection.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night will be shown at Cinema du Parc (3575 Parc) until Thursday, March 19 at 9:15 p.m. Student admission is $10.