When you sit down to watch the first ever “romantic Iranian vampire Western,” you do so shadowed by skepticism, afraid it won’t meet high expectations the description incites. But A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the feature-length directorial debut of Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour, not only satisfies, it slays.
Before we meet the vampire, the titular Farsi-tongued Girl (Sheila Vand), we first are acquainted with Bad City, a wilderness thick with pimps, prostitutes, and broken dreams depicted in dramatic high contrast black and white palate—drawing from both noir and graphic novels. One of its charms is a ditch found on one side of town that boasts a heap of bodies, corpses rolled into the crater like tumbleweeds blowing in the wind. Though the ever-growing grave is not the product of the chador-wearing-vamp—a bleeding mouth of red lipstick—but rather the E, blow, heroin, and poverty that infect the town like plagues.
As for the Girl, her bloodlust is not insatiable, but selective. Her first onscreen kill isn’t an unlucky anonymous John Doe Jugular plucked from the darkness—as is often the modus operandi in vampire and horror flicks—but prey she stalks after witnessing the wicked gent sexually and physically abusing a woman. The viscous vigilante-esque feed immediately flips any preconceived notions you may have of who’s at risk when a girl walks home alone at night on a dark, barren street—and earns this film yet another descriptor: feminist.
Yet politics don’t seem to drive the Amirpour (though in its inception alone, the film contributes to the rise of the Iranian film world’s rebellious spirit). Her prerogative seems to be carving out something unique while paying homage to some of the greats—stylistically, it’s been noted, that she’s going for a Lynch-meets-Leone mood. But it’s clear that she draws from all corners of pop culture; the Girl’s love interest Arash is modeled in James Dean fashion; the despicable pimp is a near clone to Die Antwoord frontman, Ninja; and the Girl—as she selects her favorite record and sways in a striped scoop neck—appears as mishmash of Karen O, Zooey Deschanel, and Melanie Laurent (not to mention the filmmaker herself).
But the genre mélange, this ode to pulp, isn’t bumpy or clunky like poorly bonded papier-mâché. It’s smooth and slick as if brushed in careful strokes onto a duck cotton canvas. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night relishes both its tribute and its originality. And it marks a promising beginning for Amirpour.
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT. COOLIDGE CORNER THEATRE, 290 HARVARD ST., BROOKLINE. OPENS FRI 1.2. FOR SHOWTIMES AND TICKET PRICES, VISIT COOLIDGE.ORG