Director: Ana Lily Amirpour Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Vampire mythos will live on as long as isolation is part of our every day existence. The world outside of our heads is thronged with sociability cues and navigational schema. Our heads, though, are lonely, isolated universes. There’s a continual element within our brains that compares its inside processes with its external motivators. We move amongst others, but we observe those movements within the confines of our secluded minds. What a better way to expound on this existential desolation than through the vampire.
In Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Along At Night, the vampire manifests itself as The Girl (Sheila Vand) in a ghost world called Bad City. It is a place made up by Amirpour, set in Iran, but filmed in Bakersfield, California: oil drills constantly chug away as its small population goes about its day lounging, or committing crimes out in the open, while throwing bodies into a mysterious pit. When The Girl isn’t sleeping, she’s listening to pop records, and applying thick mascara for the night. She dons a hijab like a cape, black pants, and striped shirt, as she hunts for blood on the streets. She’s nameless, her small stature makes her seem vulnerable, but if someone gets too close, or falls on low moral ground, a monster comes out and gobbles them up. She takes a skateboard from a young boy who’s a little too curious for his own good. The Girl tells him to be good as she rides off on the board, her cape flowing like a child pretending to be Superman.
She meets a handsome man named Arash (Arsh Marandi) one night as he comes home from a costume party dressed as a vampire and high on drugs for the first time. The Girl’s mute observations are decipherable in her large searching eyes. The moments in this film are quiet, but stylistically epic in proportion. There are references to Tarantino, Morricone, and Fellini throughout the film, but the comparisons are merely accents. The director’s attempt at film pastiche are achieved through explosions of emotive color within this all black and white film. While alleyway scenes are reminiscent of Fellini dream sequences, the events within the scenes are palpably realistic. Arash’s father, Hossein (Marshall Manesh), spots The Girl across the street. She mimics him in a Charlie Chaplin way. Hossein gets annoyed. He’s far larger than she, and if she were anyone else, she would run away, yet her hunger is her power. Hossein runs away. Here, Amirpour subverts gender tropes creating fear instead of expected comedic or violent fodder.
Sheila Vand’s performance is subdued, but it’s a creepy sort of dramatics that she employs to lure the audience in. We know nothing about The Girl’s history, or where she came from, or what, besides blood, motivates her. There’s an authentic playfulness to her portrayal. The Girl seems like a teenager on the outside, yet there’s a cultured old-school patience in her mannerisms. Vand’s performance artist background is an interesting strength for the bloodsucker.
The soundtrack is a selection of nostalgia driven pop and post-punk noise. Guitars light up scenes and lilting shoegaze-like voices swell in what is one of the most romantic scenes I’ve seen in quite a while. Bad City is the epitome of industrial wastelands. Spaghetti western sounds grow out of the tiny cool showdowns that the inhabitants have with their environment. People barely live in the sands of Bad City, but when they find connections, they cling to them for dear life as if they are air and it just so happens that life-giving love strikes Arash and The Girl giving them an opportunity for change amongst all the stagnation.
This film has been defined by its comparisons to pulp film and the labels that surround it in this place and time. Is it feminist film? Does the vampire embody an agency that we as a culture are still struggling to acknowledge? The film is an autoptic masterpiece: its meat lies within our interpretation of it. Thus it sets itself apart from definition.
This is more than just a simple story of a vampire girl. Amirpour has created a directorial dream film breakthrough. I hope she continues to build more worlds like this. There’s too much disenfranchisement in the world. We are ripe for new desolate fairy tales.
Jacqueline Valencia is a Toronto-based poet and critic. She the author of The Octopus Complex(Lyrical Myrical 2013), the senior staff film critic at Next Projection, and the founding editor of These Girls On Film.