It would seem each generation grows up with a different type of vampire. For an older cohort, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula is the definitive model. A few decades later, the romantic and tormented immortals of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles is the ultimate representation. Skip ahead to more recent depictions and the dominant bloodsuckers go to high school and sparkle in the sunlight, or manage fetish clubs while lusting after local waitresses. Inevitably these interpretations will inform the future versions of vampires. For now we can be thankful that the influences of recent years are not yet visible. In Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, her inspiration can found in the more amorous variety of vampire.
Arash (Arash Marandi) is in limbo. He works hard, but all he has to show for it is a nice car and a junkie father. He’s well-mannered, but that doesn’t seem worth much these days in the aptly named Bad City. When a spot on the corner opens up, complete with a suitcase full of narcotics, he decides to see how the other side lives and try his hand at drug dealing. In the meantime, an aging prostitute (Mozhan Marnò) sees no other prospects so she continues trading sex for money in spite of her cruel pimp and poor Johns. Observing all these characters is a young woman, a.k.a. The Girl (Sheila Vand), who blends into the shadows and only interferes when she sees fit.
Amirpour’s film doesn’t have a lot in common with modern day vampire movies. Most noticeably, it’s shot in black and white. The stark monochrome contrasts contribute to the film’s mood as much as its aesthetic. The sharp lines and infinite shadows is reminiscent of German expressionist films from the 1920’s, which also primarily told horror or monster stories. There is little focus on her feeding, rather showing it from a distance as if the victim is being swallowed by darkness. Her black chador often allows her to blend into the background, suddenly appearing from obscurity in some cases.
Ironically, when The Girl first meets Arash he is dressed as Dracula. Both confess to having done terrible things, but she doesn’t reveal her true nature to him. When he shows up at her door, pleading they runaway together she remains silent. There are subtle clues that her terrible thing may be exponentially worse than his, but he’s not rushing to find the ditch full of corpses at the edge of the Iranian town. Most of the other characters — The Gambler, The Prostitute, The Pimp and The Rich Girl — are archetypes from Spaghetti Westerns, which Amirpour also sights as a major influence.
The first-time feature writer/director finds new, unexplored territory in the vampire love story — a feat no longer easy to accomplish. Amirpour’s creativity and execution of her ideas are exquisite and appear boundless in her potential for future projects.