Like the best modern monster depictions, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night isn't so much a vampire movie as much as a movie with a vampire. It doesn't hinge on seeing and learning about a cool supernatural being, but there is one there. No, we're here to get attached to people, maybe fall in love, and hopefully pick ourselves up out of a place we'd rather not be.
The Girl (our vampire) preys on the citizens of Bad City (sounds cooler in Persian). She is a discreet predator, and we learn a lot about our picky eater through her choices, as well as her body language, as she's not much of a talker. Sheila Vand brings us into the mind of The Girl and keeps us studying every deliberate move she makes. The Girl can be seen as an avenging angel, a protector of the women/prostitutes of Bad City. Agree with it or not, we know why her victims have been chosen.
The other side of our love story is about Arash. Arash (Arash Marandi) takes care of his junkie dad, and after finding his father's dealer dead starts selling Ecstasy. Arash is not perfect. But he's trying to pay off debts left by his dad and get out of Bad City. The Girl's choice to spare him as he stumbles out of a costume party after being convinced to sample his merchandise solidifies that yes, there is good in him. By the end, everything revolves around both Arash and The Girl (though mostly Arash) being able to put past wrongs behind and move on with the person they love.
This movie is from Iran, which is important for a few reasons. Although I didn't get as deep a look into the culture as I was hoping – as I did from, say, Cuba, in a great flick called Juan of the Dead (sounds cooler in Persian?) – it's enlightening to see a story in a part of the world you're not used to getting these kinds of stories. And unlike, say, a Bollywood movie, there is little to no cultural barrier to how the story is told. Okay, I didn't quite get a scene about a transgender person named Rockabilly dancing with a balloon, but sometimes you need to let the transgender person dancing with a balloon go, as the old saying goes. Less facetiously, the scattered odd touches like that helped the air of whimsy. As harsh as the reality of Bad City is, we're never beaten down by it as much as its inhabitants are.
Universal as it is, there's one very important reason why this had to be made in Iran: The Girl's burka. The Girl is a striking figure, dressed in a black and white horizontal striped shirt and comfortable skate shoes (borrowing the look of a Mr. The Hamburglar) under her burka. Director Ana Lily Amirpour does a tremendous job with lighting, using the costume and the film's black and white veneer to full effect. Coupled with Sheila Vand's mannerisms, this short woman comes off as an intimidating presence. The burka is a twist on the staple vampire cape, moving in very familiar ways. However, that it can cover not only her whole body but hair makes a fanged floating face that can dart in and out like an amorphous cobra. It's also reminiscent of No-Face from Spirited Away. It's pretty scary.
Although I'm not sure the narrative purpose, the movie defines Arash and The Girl by different eras. Arash is very 1950's. He dresses like he's in The Outsiders with a classic white tee tucked into his jeans. He drives a car that must be from that decade, and music that follows him has that vibe. Conversely, The Girl seems to be from the 1980's. Her striped shirt hangs loose in 80's style, her room is decked out with posters of Michael Jackson and other 80's musicians, and she gets around on a skateboard. All done with intention. When The Girl puts a cassette in Arash's 50's car stereo, it feels like they've truly connected. It adds another level of surrealism, given I have no idea when the movie was set as a result. Speaking of music, I'd be remiss not to mention how surprisingly good the soundtrack was, of which I'm currently listening to.
Filled with strong imagery and performances with nuance and flair, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night delivers a unique, soulful look at an old genre through new eyes