Chilling and original, with a volatile sound track, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a vampire film with a punch. Welcome to “Bad City”, an imaginary ghost town in a forgotten corner of Iran that runs on drugs and prostitution – temporary escapisms from poverty and boredom. Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour, who’s been making short horror films since she was 12, has crafted a black-and-white, almost magic-realistic film for her feature debut. For 99 minutes, one girl’s blood-sucking tendencies become the everyday in a stylised observation of events, set to Persian pop and thumping techno.
Sheila Vand is subtly excellent as “the girl”, a lonesome, hijab-wearing music lover with a secret. She is playful with her skateboard and naïve in her socialising, yet more powerful than any man in Bad City. It’s hard to tell how much of her late-night activities she does consciously and whether she is a human with vampiristic tendencies or vice versa. For the most part, her remorseless stare hints towards the latter but it becomes more ambiguous when she chooses not to kill some easy prey. Her humanity shines through her love interest, Arash (played by Arash Marandi), the true hero of this Iranian Western, a young man on his own solitary path, struggling with his father’s drug addiction and the loss of his mother. An odd set of circumstances lead to an ecstasy-fuelled “meet cute”, where their similarities are emphasised further by Arash’s choice of Halloween costume: Dracula.
This scene is one of the film’s tensest and yet funniest. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you”, says a high and unsuspecting Arash to the girl. As they hug, Amirpour plays with her audience as the girl rests her face on his neck.
Although Amirpour is from Los Angeles and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was shot in California, this is an Iranian film and underwritten with inequality and oppression. “Rich people and idiots are the only ones who think things can change,” says prostitute Atti (played by Mozhan Marnò) to the vampire. For the youth of today’s Iran this is not a foolish suggestion, though for Bad City things are just beginning. Amirpour has created the first Iranian vampire Western and if this is what she has to offer on first attempt, what comes next is bound to excite.