Having seen a short trailer for this about six months ago, and on one recommendation (I don’t know anyone else who’s seen it), I settled down to watch A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour. I knew it was a vampire movie, and that was definitely of interest to me. My love/hate relationship with cinematic vampires goes all the way back to watching the Hammer movies that used to play late Friday nights on STV when I was a lad in Glasgow. There have been some great entries in this genre –
– indeed, George Romero’s Martin and Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark are two of my favourite movies of any genre – but like the horror genre overall, most vampire movies are garbage, and the trend, since Anne Rice’s Interview With The Vampire (the novel, not the movie), of making vampires out to be suave and sexy, and all part of some kind of subculture is something I’ve always despised. The Twilight and Underworld series of movies represent everything that is wrong about the vampire subgenre, as far as I’m concerned. These movies work best when the vampire is a lonely and solitary figure – damaged goods, living on the fringe of society. That’s why Martin and Werner Herzog’s remake of Nosferatu work for me. Even Near Dark sort of fits into that description – the vampires are part of a group, but they’re also outsiders, and in terms of being damaged, that movie’s character, Homer (as played by Joshua Miller), emphasizes the pathos of the vampire. His grown man man’s wants and needs are forever suppressed, trapped in a young boy’s body and he’s consumed by it.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a terrible title for a very good movie that cleaves closely to both Martin and Near Dark for the reasons I mentioned above, even though it’s more the story of a young man and his growing dissatisfaction with his life in an industrialized small town, where he lives with his heroin addicted father, than it is about a vampire. The setting of the movie is extremely important to this movie too. Set in Iran (though it was filmed in southern California), it shares the same bleak and depressing milieu as movies like David Lynch’s Eraserhead, and The Machinist ; movies where the protagonist generally struggles to find himself amid the blue collar settings of an over industrialized small town. The movie shows this plight early on when the young man, Arash, a James Dean type whose dark good looks belie his internal vulnerability, has the keys of his beloved car taken from him by a local drug dealer, and all he can do is watch impotently. I liked all of the character work of the first act – Arash, his father, the drug dealer – they’re all played with a great deal of authenticity, but also against cliché. Amirpour is one of those increasingly rare screenwriters; where many of her peers are more often than not content to fall back on character tropes, at least here she is clearly more concerned with deep character work, well-illustrated in the vampire (simply named “The Girl” in the closing credits) of the movie. Played by Sheila Vand (Argo, and the upcoming Tina Fey vehicle Whisky Tango Foxtrot), this character reminded me a lot of Martin’s titular protagonist.
Throughout the movie she conveys a deep well of sadness through her big expressive eyes, and in the small apartment she lives in, plastered with music memorabilia. By turns, she is vicious and cruel, but also lonely and unwilling to be part of anyone else’s life due to her condition, and what is has made of her. As a former college Goth whose inner life was reflected in the music I listened to (especially The Smiths), I found myself wistfully thinking back to those days, and how I would have fallen hard for The Girl if I’d met her back then. I expect this movie appeals to people like me for exactly this reason.
I loved the subtlety of the vampirism here. There’s no blood soaked scenes of depravity, or lingering coolness – when she needs to feed, she’s appropriately animalistic, attacking like a pitbull. But when she’s out at night, many of her scenes have a strong element of playfulness about them; such as when she’s mirroring the movements on one character, or gliding down the middle of an empty street on a skateboard. These scenes allow the inner personality to show, because there’s no one else around to see her. Everything about this character is written to perfection, and I found the final scene of The Girl and Arash to be such an utterly beautiful moment. With no words, and only a shy, faltering turn of her head, it’s stunningly transformative. Absolutely gorgeous writing and direction.
I’ve since read the internet’s typical clickbait juxtapositions at play when describing this movie (“feminist vampire Western!”), but they’re simplistic and feeble-minded. This is a movie to be watched and savoured for all its myriad parts, not contracted to easily digested mnemonic nuggets. Yes, if you’re a fan of David Lynch this is likely to appeal strongly, but if you go in to this movie with the “not another vampire movie” attitude, you’ll likely be surprised by the depth and complexity of this one.
© Andrew Hope, 2016
This review was originally published on 2/21/2016 at https://thatsnotcurrentblog.wordpress.com