“If there was a storm coming right now, a big storm from behind those mountains, would it change anything?” asks Arash.
Part of the draw of a vampire movie for me is atmosphere. The best dramatic vampire films are able to create an atmosphere of dread that leaves the viewer in suspense. It has become almost a lost art of sorts in today’s vampire films (damn those crappy Twilight movies). Luckily, there are still some filmmakers who recognize the importance of atmosphere in a vampire film and can execute it well. Ana Lily Amirpour is one such filmmaker who accomplished this task in her debut feature A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a film that surprised me in its effectiveness when I recently saw it at the IFC Center. For a film I almost didn’t end up seeing, I’m sure glad that I was able to find the time to see it; I cannot overstate my enjoyment of it.
2014’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night centers on a young man who encounters a young, lonely female vampire who roams the streets of Bad City (an Iranian ghost town), dispatching those who are bad (particularly men who abuse women). Amirpour assembled a talented cast that includes Arash Marandi (as Arash), Sheila Vand (as the Girl), Marshall Manesh (as Hossein), Dominic Rains, (as Saeed), Mozhan Marnò (as Atti), Rome Shadanloo (as Shaydah), and Milad Eghbali (as the Street Urchin). Marandi is terrific as Arash, who has to deal with a douchebag pimp/drug dealer, his own father (who has become a junkie), and falls in love with the mysterious Girl without ever realizing that she is in fact a vampire. Vand is just as good as the complex Girl, whose innocent looks deceive those who eventually become her victims and whose eyes beam with intensity. Manesh is also in fine form as Arash’s junkie father who is forced by Arash to kick his habit (and struggles to do so). Amirpour’s direction is strong, and her screenplay (based on her award-winning short film of the same name) is just utterly fascinating (an Iranian vampire western). It deals with a tender love story, drug addiction, prostitution, and vampirism.
Most of the film’s setting is a desolate, Iranian urban landscape and the female vampire roams around while wearing a cape-like chador (which looks appropriate for a vampire and heightens the dread). Kudos goes out to costume designer Natalie O’Brien for this, along with Lyle Vincent’s spectacular black-and-white cinematography (I loved the effective use of shadows) and Sergio De La Vega’s production design (I’m still amazed that he turned a part of California into an Iranian ghost town). My favorite set was the Girl’s home since it provides the audience with a little more of her history, using her music collection, photos on her wall, etc. (it gives the audience some idea on how long she may have been a vampire). There was also the pit of dead bodies at the edge of town that no one seemed to be concerned with (except for anyone dumping a new dead body in there); that visual is one of many haunting images from the film. Alex O’Flinn’s editing moves the film at a good pace, and the use of pre-existing songs makes the romantic scenes more effective, showing the growing bond between Arash and the Girl. Amirpour makes an impressive debut with this refreshing film and is one filmmaker that I’ll be keeping an eye out for in the future.