A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) — Image via sundance.org

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour (2014)

Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night has the feel of an immediate cult classic. Through scenes that are sometimes heartfelt, sometimes frightening, and sometimes funny, the film depicts a young vampire known only as “The Girl” (Sheila Vand) finding love with a fellow outsider, Arash (Arash Marandi). Shot beautifully in black and white by Lyle Vincent, A Girl Walks Home manages to be not only visually stunning but both sweetly awkward and viscerally unsettling. And there is a cute cat involved, which never hurts.

Over the past century, the filmic vampire has been put into almost every conceivable context and connected to a vast array of metaphors. The corollaries for vampirism presented by A Girl Walks Home — namely, drug dealing, vigilante justice, prostitution, addiction, and oil drilling — work just fine, but what is truly notable about the film is its seamless mixture of genres. It simultaneously evokes every horror, western, film noir, and 80s teen romance you’ve ever seen while still feeling like something entirely its own. The dystopian hellscape in which the film is set evokes early David Lynch in its combined aesthetic of industrial wasteland, war zone, and garden-variety suburb. Although the setting is clearly Iranian-inspired (the characters speak Farsi and The Girl dons a chador), the film does little to suggest that the location should be read as anything other than fantastical.

As far as the chador-clad vampire is concerned, once you see her, you can’t help but wonder why it hasn’t been done before. Apparently, Amirpour got the idea when she put on a chador that was a prop on one of her earlier sets and instantly felt like a bat. Add to this the skateboard that The Girl commandeers from a terrified little street urchin (Milad Ehgbali) and the fact that she tends to target misogynists and other miscreants (raising, albeit in a lighthearted way, contemporary debates surrounding the veil and feminism), and we have an anti-hero we aren’t quite sure whether to root for or run away from. Probably the best answer is to do both.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) — Image via sundance.orgAt a cultural moment when we like our vampires a little too cute and cuddly, A Girl Walks Home, thankfully, resists the urge to rehabilitate The Girl, who does not put aside her lust for blood once she has found the love of a good man. Although most of The Girl’s victims are clearly drains on society, such as the drug dealer (Dominic Rains) who steals Arash’s car or the junkie father (Marshall Manesh) who drags Arash down financially and emotionally, the film reminds us that, despite her good intentions, The Girl is still a murderer, a fact emphasized when she kills a homeless man, seemingly because she needs to feed and not because he did anything to raise her ire.

Given The Girl’s fairly significant flaws and Arash’s partial knowledge of them, his decision to stand by her is a much more meaningful one than it would be if he had managed to alter her essential nature, to make her less vampiric. Arash isn’t a saint either; although he is kind to The Girl in a way that no one else in the film is, we see him dealing drugs to laborers at the power plant and stealing jewelry from one of his wealthy employers (Rome Shadanloo). A Girl Walks Home, therefore, closes with a celebration of rebellious young love, even when the object of that love is more than a little imperfect. It’s cute and sweet, and the fact that the relationship probably won’t last isn’t really the point.

To cap off an already entertaining film, the soundtrack is nothing short of surreal, mixing 80s synthpop, Iranian club music and love ballads, contemporary American alternative rock, and industrial synthesizers that make the theater walls vibrate. Amirpour mentions that she selected the music for each scene long before the film was shot and actually played it for the actors beforehand so that they could get a sense of the mood and pacing of each scene. This awareness shows, particularly in tender scenes, such as the one where Arash and The Girl embrace for the first time, and in which the music perfectly builds tension in the slow-to-unfold but satisfying catharsis.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a fun, fresh, and aesthetically rich addition to the vampire film canon. With its liberal genre bending, sultry moodiness, and striking characters, Amirpour’s film will likely feature regularly at midnight showings for years to come.

Published by

Emily Anderson

is completing her Ph.D. in English at the University of Minnesota. She teaches literature and writing at several local educational institutions.