Movie Weekly: ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ is an Iranian vampire western

Photo courtesy of Say Ahh Productions

For the third installment of Movie Weekly, the Technique switched gears from classic American cinema and watched “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.” A vampire thriller with a twist, the highly stylized film has more in common with spaghetti westerns than classic horror flicks, making it feel timelessly iconic yet wholly unfamiliar. 

The movie is writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour’s (“The Bad Batch”) feature film debut, and her most critically successful picture. Following the success of Amirpour’s 2012 short film of the same title, “A Girl Walks Home Alone Night” is the result of an Indiegogo campaign that raised over $50,000 to fund the full-length adaptation. After the movie’s release in 2014 it was screened in the “Next” program at that year’s Sundance Film Festival. 

Set in the fictional Bad City, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” opens on Arash (Arash Marandi, “Fireflies”) as he takes home a stray cat. A handsome young man dressed in dark jeans, a white t-shirt and with slicked back hair, Arash is straight out of a 50s rockabilly film. When he brings the cat home, his widowed father Hossein (Marshall Manesh, “The Big Lebowski”) is introduced. Hossein spends his days slumped on the ground in front of the TV, constantly in a heroin-fuelled comatose state. 

Amirpour’s Iranian-American heritage clearly impacts the film. Though the dialogue is entirely in Persian, the setting is unclear — Bad City looks to be an industrial desert oil field at some points, but an American suburb at others. 

Most striking about Bad City, however, is its loneliness; populated by seemingly only a handful of citizens, it is more a ghost town than anything else. Amirpour creates the sense that an exodus occurred in Bad City, and those that are still stuck there are waiting to make their escape. The town is eerie, industrial and unsettling. As he walks around town in the opening scene, Arash crosses a bridge over an underpass, that upon closer inspection is full of bodies. 

After Hossein fails to pay his dealer, Saeed (Dominic Rains, “Burn Country”), he makes a home visit to harass Hossein. As payment, he takes Arash’s prized possession: his brand new car. Saeed, who is also a pimp, drives away to rendezvous with one of his workers, Atti (Mozhan Marnò, “Traitor”). In the middle of forcing himself on her, Saeed sees a mysterious dark figure in his rearview mirror and cuts things off, forcing Atti out of his car and speeding away. 

On his way home, Saeed comes across a beautiful young girl with dark lipstick and heavy eyeliner and clad in a striped shirt and a chador, a Persian cloak and head covering. He invites her into his home and intends to seduce her. The Girl rejects his advances, reveals her long fangs and drains his life. 

Never given a name, and only referred to as The Girl, Amirpour’s vampire is a fresh take on a classic movie monster. In recent years, many films have tried to revamp vampires in various ways. Most famous, perhaps, is the adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, which took the ancient monster and turned it into a teenage heartthrob. Then there is Taika Waititi’s (“Thor: Ragnarok”) 2014 hit “What We Do in the Shadows,” which was an unexpected comedy featuring modern vampires. The year before, Jim Jarmusch’s (“The Dead Don’t Die”) highly stylized “Only Lovers Left Alive” took a new angle and focused on the listlessness and depression that comes with an infinite lifetime. 

Amirpour’s vampire is most closely related to Jarmusch’s. The Girl stalks and skateboards around Bad City at night, her chador eerily similar to the classic vampire cape, as she hunts for terrible men to feed on. Her lair is a basement studio apartment, decorated like a hip teenager’s room — walls covered in posters, a ceiling lined with fairy lights — where she dances to American records alone. Effortlessly portrayed by American actress Sheila Vand (“Argo”), The Girl is incredibly melancholic, nearly always silent and entirely a mystery. 

As she leaves Saeed’s home, The Girl passes by Arash, who is there to get his car back. Arash enters Saeed’s home, finds him dead and steals Saeed’s stash before taking his car back. He then throws Saeed’s body into the underpass filled with bodies seen earlier. He quits his landscaping job and takes over for Saeed, becoming a drug dealer. 

At a costume party, a girl convinces Arash, who is dressed as Dracula, to try his own stash and take ecstasy. After wandering around a suburb and getting lost on his way home, Arash runs into The Girl once again. In his state, he is spacy and confused, but this is the first time The Girl seems to be interested in someone. He hugs her, and she takes him to her home and plays him her records as he lays on her bed. 

From there, the two begin a sort of relationship. Their first date is eating takeout burgers near a power plant, where they exchange maybe ten words. Arash puts on a song and they bond over music. It is clear that they sense something in one another, and that neither of them have anyone else.

The choice to shoot the film entirely in black and white might just be a callback to the classic film style “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is paying homage to, but it proves to be a powerful choice. Scenes of The Girl at night are more prominently juxtaposed with Arash’s during the day. The grayscale also contributes to the sense of loneliness Amirpour is trying to convey, the world she has created feels oppressive.

Sometime later, Hossein hires Atti, a prostitute, and forcibly injects her with heroin. The Girl is nearby, hears the disturbance and breaks into his home. She tears Hossein off of Atti and attacks him, unbeknownst that he is Arash’s father. After dragging his body into the street, she takes Arash’s cat and brings it to her underground home.

After finding out about his father’s death, Arash realizes he no longer has anything tying him to Bad City and decides to flee. He shows up at The Girl’s apartment and tells her to pack, he wants her to go with him. She packs a single bag, stuffing it with handfuls of men’s watches, trophies from her apparent victims. It is then, when they are packed and ready to go that Arash’s cat emerges from the shadows. Arash is stunned and puts the pieces together, realizing that she must have killed his father. Still, the two drive away in Arash’s car, the cat between them. All is silent until Arash puts in a cassette tape. 

A foreign black-and-white film about a skateboarding vampire sounds like the punchline to some kind of joke about hipsters, but “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is shockingly unpretentious.