A lot of comparisons Ana Lily Amirpour’s vampire-themed A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night has been garnering are to indie director Jim Jarmusch’s 80s work. Indeed, Girls Walks Home has a stark, black & white look to it as well as a preference for a laid-back cool over plot momentum that resembles Jarmusch, who made his own vampire movie last year with Only Lovers Left Alive. However, I found myself thinking of an entirely different film while watching Armipour’s debut feature, albeit another work from the 80s: Kathryn Bigelow’s classic vampire Western Near Dark. Near Dark has a similar style-over-substance ethos shared by Amirpour & Jarmusch, but it fits in with Girl Walks Home a lot closer thematically than any other work I can recall. This thematic similarity is apparent in the gender-swapped vulnerability in characters’ sexual desire. Both A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night & Near Dark feature a young woman venturing alone in public after sunset & being solicited by strange, potentially dangerous men. Normally, the woman would be perceived as the vulnerable party in these situations, but their hidden vampirism disrupts the power balance and complicates the tension.
An essential difference between the films is that Near Dark abandons the idea of vampiric, gender-swapped nightstalking early on to focus on unconventional ideas of family, while A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night develops the concept into a feature length film. Much like its title, the film itself has a quiet, dangerous sort of beauty to it that is amplified by its Iranian setting. Pantomimed felatio, prostitution, and concerns about the impropriety of being alone with the opposite sex feel all the more dangerous when considered in the context of the draconian culture that surrounds them. A decidedly feminist bent turns the tables on these vibes and makes victims out of the men who would be the most likely perpetrators in these situations. The film’s central vampire punishes pimps & rapists and scares children into being good little boys for the rest of their lives. She’s more of a (murderous) Batman or a Miss Meadows than a Dracula in this way. Not everything she does is right & justified (there’s an encounter with a homeless victim that calls her moral code into question), but there’s a general sense that she’s righting a wrong in her encounters with the dangerous men she haunts.
Of course, as a debut, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night has a few kinks that could be worked out. It’s a very showy, stylish film that suggests Armipour has a lot of fascinating work in her that we’ll be treated to in the coming years. At the same time, it’s a little misshapen & awkwardly paced and its showiness occasionally risks a sort of indie movie triteness. Its imagery milks a lot of atmosphere out of stray cats, spinning records, skateboarding, and heroin abuse that sometimes works extremely well & sometimes comes off a little like a 90s Calvin Klein ad. When it’s firing on all cylinders, though, such as in a particularly effective makeup application scene or when the vampire is casually flipping through a victim’s CD collection after a kill, it’s a very memorable, humorous, and visually gorgeous work that will be likely to stick in the public consciousness for a while to come. The distillation of my favorite aspect of Near Dark & its working-class vibes in lines like, “Idiots & rich people are the only ones who think things can change,” also combine to make it an endearing film to me, personally. Based on what I’ve seen here, I’m very much excited to see where Armipour’s efforts go in the future.