A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is further proof that vampire movies aren’t dead

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I’ve probably lamented before that we live in a film culture (and really, a culture in general) where novelty is a commodity. We crave new ideas, new takes, seek out new angles like a geometry professor who wants to be famous, but realized too late that he picked the wrong field for that.

This is why when someone like me hears the phrase “Iranian vampire movie,” we make that little interested noise that normal people make when they hear “free booze” or “willing sexual partner.” And make no mistake, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is interesting, not really because it’s the first vampire movie to come out of Iran, but because it is in layman’s terms “holy moly hot dippity damn where have you been all my life GOOD.”

Sheila Vand stars as a mysterious unnamed vampire stalking the streets of an Iranian city who crosses paths with Arash, a wayward kid with a junkie dad and a penchant for dressing like James Dean. Really, it goes where you would expect, the two fall in love (or something approximating love) while Arash’s life crumbles, in part due to the girl herself. Really, the love story aspect of the thing is secondary to the interwoven arcs of Arash, the girl, and several other assorted lost souls.

So right off the bat, Girl Walks Home is pretty. This isn’t director Ana Lily Amirpour’s first rodeo, but it is her first feature, and damn can this woman shoot a scene. The camera glides around in smooth, beautiful long takes, never obtrusive but never idle.

The lighting, oh dear sweet lord, the lighting. The film is a symphony of light and shadow, with some achingly beautiful shots lit with such flair and precision that the shadows are basically a character in their own right.

It reminds me a lot of early Jarmusch, around the era of Stranger than Paradise or Down by Law, and not just because of the sexy black and white. There’s a poetry to the imagery in this film, this delicious quality that results in virtually every frame being a work of art in itself, and people are probably gonna be dissecting it for years. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tony Zhou were doing an Every Frame a Painting video on it in the near future, and he’s gonna have a lot to work with.

The cast is technically an ensemble, but really this is Sheila Vand’s show, and she owns every second of it. I don’t think I’ve seen another actor in recent memory who has such a flair for subtlety of expression. With just the oval of her face and the barest of eye, brow and mouth movements she can move from predatory hunger, sorrow, malevolence, and ecstasy.

She’s at once beguiling and alien, an outsider looking in. It’s a masterful performance, in every sense. The other actors all do terrific jobs, but the whole thing really hinged on Vand’s performance, and thankfully she blows it out of the water.

Another thing that reminded me of Jarmush is how important music is to the film. A Girl Walks Home has already gotten a lot of attention for its music, and deservedly so. The score is this wonderful fusion of gothic, spaghetti western and pop/rock.

A lot like the camera work, it’s flexible, soaring when it needs to into Morricone inspired horns and choirs, and other times mellowing out into thumping minimalist beats. And for all that variety, it always works. It never feels out of place or ill-fitting.

The hype around the film has really come from its cultural roots. People don’t bring this movie up as a cool vampire movie, but rather a cool Iranian vampire movie. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. But one of the things I like most is that the film itself doesn’t fully take part in this.

While the film wouldn’t function nearly as well if it were completely taken out of its cultural context, it doesn’t trade on its cultural origins. It doesn’t bank on exoticism, which would have easily led to it feeling exploitative or tacky.

It’s an Iranian film, yes, but it’s more concerned with being a horror film, a film about fathers and sons, about culture, about youth, about love. The film gained hype for being Iranian, but when you really watch it you realize that the novelty of its origins aren’t something the film is at all interested in capitalizing in.

And really, it’s deeply unfair to qualify this as an Iranian vampire movie. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a vampire movie, a fantastic one, one that is also Iranian.

Would the film function as well were it set somewhere else? No, probably not. There’s doubtlessly scads of subtext and allegory packed into this thing that I didn’t pick up on. But it functions magnificently whether you pick up on that or not.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is playing at Cinema du Parc right now as of the time of this posting. If you’re a film buff, regardless of whether or not horror or genre films are your bag, you need to go and see this. This is fantastic, beautifully executed film making, rich with meaning and achingly, magnificently cool.

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