Before I quit my job at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to play at being a writer, I was a regular contributor to the Eleventh Stack blog. I was free to write about pretty much any material in the Library’s catalog. It was great! On Thursdays, I’ll revisit some of my old faves. A version of this post first appeared on May 20, 2015 and was republished on March 9, 2017. This post contains affiliates.
Let me say this right off the bat: I’m not really a fan of vampire movies (I see what I did there). I could probably count the ones I like on one thumbless hand (Thirst, Vampyr, Let Me In and Afflicted). Sadly, I’ve yet to see the original Let the Right One In or any version of Nosferatu. And, while both were supremely stylish, I didn’t love Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Only Lovers Left Alive as much as I’d hoped. What We Do in the Shadows was all right, but the television show is far superior (we all know at least one energy vampire).
So when I first saw A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the feature-length debut of Iranian-American filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour, I wasn’t expecting much, but I ended up loving it.
The film follows the titular girl, played by Sheila Vand, as she lurks around the aptly-named Bad City, looking for her next victim. As a non-vamp-fan, I’m not sure what interested me in this film in the first place. Was it the fact that it was filmed in black and white (which lends an otherworldly eeriness to the film), or the superbly constructed tagline (“The First Iranian Vampire Western”)? Whatever the reason, I’m so glad I saw it.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is both brand new (The Girl – as she’s credited – is a skateboarding, chador-wearing vampire!) and nostalgic (The Girl loves vinyl; the last song she listened to was Lionel Richie’s “Hello”). There’s no end of vampire symbolism: needles attached to heroin-filled syringes pierce the skin of junkies; oil rigs plunge their giant metallic teeth into the ground, slowly sucking Bad City dry. It’s a wonderful amalgamation of pulpy film noir, Midwest ghost towns and Amirpour’s recreation of Iran; the characters speak Farsi, yet it was filmed in the darkened streets of Taft, CA.
The following scene, featuring Vand and her victim(?), the ecstasy-addled Arash (played by Arash Marandi, a.k.a. the Iranian James Dean), could fit into any idyllic indie/hipster drama (not unlike the adorably charming God Help the Girl) and be a delightful scene. But within the confines of Amirpour’s universe, it becomes a near-psychedelic trip that raises hairs as it walks a fine line between terror and temptation. Honestly, even if you hate the other ninety-six minutes of the film, this scene will more than make up for it. It’s magical:
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night takes its time building the horror and tension, as evidenced by the above scene. Today’s horror fans often equate tension-building with boring (have we forgotten the first half of Psycho or the entirety of The Blair Witch Project?). In an arena mostly dominated by cheap jump-scares and senseless gore, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night shines through the fog of horror mediocrity. To be fair, there is some gore in the film, but it’s used as a means, not an end. Plus, it’s in black and white so it isn’t nearly as gruesome as it would be in color (again, like Psycho).
I could go on and on about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night; it’s a film I’ll definitely want to revisit – and recommend – again and again. As we enter the spooky season, I hope you find time to escape the surreal horrors of real life to experience this wonderful film.
Happy October, dear reader!