by ,

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a very different film than what many might expect it is. Sure, a vampire western might sound wild and exciting (just look at Scott Snyder’s American Vampire comic), but this is an all too different beast. It’s a often strange and quiet little film, more interested in allowing its intoxicating soundtrack to overwhelm the audience as it lets its visuals and sound tell their own story.

Sheila Vand stars as The Girl, a mostly silent figure who lurks through the streets of a lonely Iranian town, Bad City, often on a skateboard, a dark outfit framing her face and hiding her seemingly average figure. Turns out, The Girl is a vampire, and one whose aimless roaming has led to a struggling young man dressed as Dracula (Arash Marandi), who essentially moonlights as James Dean the rest of the time. There are plenty of other townspeople in the mix as well, all of whom seem to be unaware of the vampire in their midst, but well aware of the disappointing world they live in. Sadness and death spread, things grow complicated, and people move on.

Everything about Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature screams atmosphere from the get-go. While it’s arguable that her mood piece doesn’t exactly have that much of a solid narrative, it’s also arguable that it doesn’t actually need one. The aesthetic she presents with Lyle Vincent’s ace B&W photography is gorgeous, even though it’s often contrasted by a decaying city full of death, drugs, and sex. While that sounds ultimately depressing, and the film is pretty morbid, she contrasts it beautifully with enticing (and sensual without being sexual) moments of romance between these two lonely fucks.

There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Amirpour is more than comfortable presenting her influences throughout. A poster on a city wall depicts a figure similar to the film’s vampire, her face completely blanked out. It’s with that image that the presence of Maya Deren, or more specifically her short film Meshes of an Afternoon, appeared to me. There’s a little bit of Carl Theodor Dreyer and a little Robert Rodriguez in her compositions, a little Tarantino’s brand of Western soundtrack, and even some of Jarmusch’s pacing and dedication to letting the image and music paint its own picture (even though his own vampire flick this year only shares some minor similarities with this one).

More importantly, Amirpour is well-aware of the fact that her film lies in a beautiful territory between b-movie and arthouse flick. It’s comfortable inhabiting both, but leans towards b-movie instead of aspiring to be artsy, much unlike the similarly sexual, haunting, and predatory Under the Skin (not that I’d fault the other for wanting to do the opposite). Because of that comfort, it finds a smart balance between funny and dramatic that not every film of the sort can. And, even though the occasional off-beat scenes might leave some viewers wondering what the fuck is going on, it’s just the kind of pop cinema that can appeal to most folks.

As such, it’s also a surprisingly effective romance in spite of all its genre stylings. The budding of a romance between vampire and human has never looked quite so deliciously appealing. Watching the gorgeous leads interact in a bedroom – their bodies approaching, embracing, as disco lights spin around the room and White Lies’ “Death” fades out to the sound of a heartbeat – that’s what great indie romance looks like. Hell, even the two of ’em sitting outside on a car, one like James Dean and the other like a wicked nun, staring off into the distance is as appealing as it gets.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night certainly isn’t just a film about finding love in a hopeless place, but this weird little romance between vampire and human smack in the middle of an abysmal world is exactly what makes it so appealing to witness. Now if only I could get Arash Marandi to look into my eyes, whisper something in Farsi in my ear, and drive me off into the night.

Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour; written by Ana Lily Amirpour; starring Sheila Vand and Arash Marandi; 99 minutes.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is currently experiencing a limited US release. In Miami, it is opening exclusively at the Miami Beach Cinematheque on December 12th.