A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night bills itself as the first Iranian Vampire Western. This is misleading. Like all good movies, it transcends borders. A more accurate tagline might be “The first Persian language Vampire Western.”
The film takes place in Bad City, a nightmarish amalgam of urban decay and frontier isolation. It’s a place where the dead lay dumped in dried river beds like so much garbage. Its streets alternate between rows of cookie-cutter homes and desolate alleyways. In the distance, oil rigs pump up and down like crows picking at the dead earth’s skin.
We follow a group of colorful characters with intersecting stories. There’s Arash, a young man who dresses in white t-shirts and pegged jeans. His prized possession is a 1957 Ford Thunderbird convertible he worked 2,191 days to afford. Arash’s father, Hossein, is a widower and heroin addict. Hossein’s dealer, Saeed has the word “SEX” tattooed across the front of his throat. Saeed is also a pimp for Atti, who’s just turned thirty and dreams of escaping the life of a street walker.
Weaving through these narratives is the girl. She’s a vampire. She lives in a small, one-room apartment. New-wave posters plaster the walls. At night she emerges in a pitch-black chador to prey on the city’s destitute and depraved. There is a loneliness in her that actress Sheila Vand conveys despite having little dialogue.
Arash and the girl’s paths cross, first in passing then again in one of the film’s cleverest scenes. Arash has been to a costume party and gotten lost walking home. He’s high on Ecstasy, staring open mouthed at a streetlight when the girl spots him. He’s wearing a Dracula costume that prompts something of a double-take by her. Their eyes meet. There is a connection. They sense the loneliness in one-another. In a near wordless scene, she takes him back to her small apartment. She puts on a record and he holds her close, wanting nothing more than the company. It is something out of a teenage fantasy, yet the scene works because the film doesn’t try to sell it. There are no speeches or orchestral swells, just the two performers and the song “Death” from White Lies.
I’m going to talk about the ending now. If what I’ve written so far has piqued your curiosity, I encourage you to give the film a look. I’d rather not spoil the ending, but if you’re still on the fence, read on and perhaps I can persuade you.
Still, here? Okay, here we go.
To appreciate why A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a great film, we must discuss the final scene.
Arash and the girl are driving out of town. Arash doesn’t know that she’s a vampire, but he knows that she killed his father. The girl doesn’t know that the man she killed was Arash’s father, but she knows he’s having second thoughts. They drive in silence. After a bit, Arash pulls the car over. He gets out and paces in the headlights. His fists clench and unclench. He runs his hands through his hair. The emotions wash over him. The girl watches in silence. We don’t fear for him, we fear for her feelings. In a Hollywood production this scene would include a monologue followed by an emotional exchange. Writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour gives us something far more powerful in the silence.
In time Arash straightens, gets back in the car and pulls onto the road. They leave Bad City.
It’s a perfect ending, and one that stuck with me long after I’d walked out of the theater. Howard Hawks said that a great movie consisted of “Three good scenes and no bad ones.” A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night has this and more.