Everything in the Iranian ghost-town of Bad City is for the taking, but it can’t always give you what you want.
Arash (Arash Marandi) is a diamond in the rough. He works hard for a rich woman, bought his own car with his savings, and takes care of his junkie father. In a dying town where oil, drugs, and prostitution are the only businesses booming, it is a lawless place where people either disappear or their found bodies are dragged into the local trash pit. For all the temptation, however, Arash’s attempts to do the right thing haven’t gone unnoticed – a vampire (Sheila Vand) has taken up residence in their little town, and she knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, women, and foolish little boys.
Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour describes her film as the first Iranian Vampire Western, a moody and monochromatic film inspired by the spaghetti western style of Sergio Leone. Right down to the music cues, there is a Tarantino feel about the way the film flows but with far less dialog – it’s all subtitled, by the way. In spite of all the death and despair, the story is really about loneliness, whether your life is on hold taking care of an ill parent or you’re a centuries-old vampire mistaken for a young girl out on a stroll. How much are you willing to risk or forgive to make a human connection?
The cinematography is entrancing. The lighting for the night and interior shots is moody and interesting, and the long shots as characters move about in the frame conveys an amazing amount of story. While the film does have a Tarantino feel, Amipour isn’t interested in overlong speeches or lengthy conversations; what isn’t said feels just as important or even more so. As “The Girl,” Sheila Vand shows vulnerability until she puts on her hijab, then she’s all business – and you’d better hope you’re not on the receiving end. The Girl has a code, so while she follows the rules of being a vampire, she also acts within her own rules on who lives and who dies. It calls into questions who is the villain and who is the hero, but like everything else in this film, all of it is tinged with gray.
For a dying city, the utility infrastructure is in good repair; not a busted street lamp or lightbulb in sight. In contrast, who knew Bakersfield, California looked anything like an Iranian ghost town? Doing a lot with very little is the Indie filmmaker’s stock in trade (some long shots of The Girl on a skateboard are reportedly the director herself), but A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night feels like a big story occupying a very little film – proof that the vampire film genre is anything but dead.
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)