This Town Is Dead at Night
When I heard there was an Iranian-Californian vampire movie where a lady vampire skateboards through a deserted town under the streetlights and the palm trees, her chador blowing out behind her like Dracula’s cape, I thought, That’s awesome!
But by the time we actually reached the skateboard scene in “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” all I could think was, That’s terrifying!
“A Girl” is a totally effective piece of atmosphere: dreamlike, black and white, with a phenomenal soundtrack of spooky global New Wave-type stuff. Ana Lily Amirpour directed this thing until it shrieked. It’s hypnotic, kind of desultory, sexy, and weird.
And the vampire is scary. “A Girl” has a sense of humor, but man, Sheila Vand’s nameless vampire is Nemesis in lipstick. She judges, and she brutally kills those she finds guilty. (Exclusively men, I think, though I’m not sure. This is a very Riot Grrrl kind of movie.) She’s ferocious, but there’s an emotional vulnerability to her which comes out in her tentative romance with the sweet-natured, frustrated Arash (Arash Marandi). Can a boy and a girl get together when the boy keeps having to pay his father’s drug debts and the girl is a vampire? A cat and a mouse might fall in love, but where would they live?
Vampirism isn’t an allegory here—there’s no the real vampires are the gentrifiers-–but it does have a few echoes in other parts of the narrative. Vampirism is linked to ecstasy: losing yourself in sex, drugs, music. (Not the ecstasy of religion, which is absent, although there’s a feeling of greater social conservatism than American pop culture usually depicts: filial piety, expectations of modesty, don’t you want me to leave the room so you’re not here with a man alone?) Vampirism is linked to merciless justice. It’s paralleled with capitalism, maybe, the oil rigs sinking fangs into the earth. And it’s paralleled with living off others: Arash’s father and his father’s drug dealer are pathetic, but they drain people dry.
This is a glamorous movie. Music-video timing, gothed-out humor, sexy vengeance, sneaking through fences and meeting in deserted roadside wastes. “A Girl” has been billed as “the Iranian vampire Western,” but to me it felt closer to an outlaw-lovers film, pulpy and cigarette-cool. It’s a teenage movie in the most thrilling ways.