Amirpour’s debut feature film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, has been labelled by many critics as the first “Iranian vampire Western” – and it seamlessly blends the genres to create a captivating, expressionistic atmosphere which simultaneously comments on morality and subverts gender expectations. This seamless hybridisation is echoed through the fluidity of the camera work of Lyle Vincent; with a tendency towards chiaroscuro lighting that accentuates the film’s black and white aesthetics to create Spaghetti Western styled long shots of lone characters, especially The Girl (Sheila Vand) and Arash (Arash Marandi), roaming the streets of the fictitious “Bad City” of Iran at night.
Sheila Vand’s performance as The Girl, a female vampire in a ghost town that is home to immoral inhabitants – such as Saeed the pimp/drug lord (Dominic Rains), Hossein the junkie (Marshall Manesh), and Atti the prostitute (Mozhan Marno) – and her character’s decidedly amoral behaviour, when combined with her gliding body movements and expressionless facial features, throws an air of existential terror into the mix. Alongside this; her penchant for Noughties era pop music, her choice of skateboard for transport through the streets, and her chador in lieu of a stereotypical Dracula cloak result in an element of humanisation that combats her vampiric otherworldly-ness as well as incorporating cross-cultural elements.
In terms of the film’s comments on culture and gender roles, The Girl’s protagonist status is particularly important. On first glance, she is merely a silhouette along a street in the night-time, a lone woman clad in a chador in a sinister location – yet she is not conveyed as vulnerable or in danger at any point throughout the narrative. Rather, she is completely in control, subverting the stereotype of women as “damsels in distress” at the hands of vampires, something which is most evident through her choice of male victims. Saeed becomes the archetypal damsel figure, and when The Girl bites off his finger the way she traces his mouth with its bloodied stump is reminiscent of a woman applying lipstick. The same can be said for Hossein, as The Girl kills him after he physically forces Atti to shoot up drugs with him – ultimately revenging her fellow woman through his murder, empowering both Atti and herself.
Given Amirpour’s musical background (as both a singer and a DJ) it is unsurprising that A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is heavily dependent on its aural elements. In fact, the film contains a distinct lack of dialogue throughout its narrative, which forces the audience to focus on what little speech is spoken – such as The Girl’s tense “Are you a good boy?” conversation with a terrified boy – as well as drawing emphasis on the ambient noise within the film. For example, in most scenes containing shots of characters smoking, the sound effects of the cigarettes’ crackling with every inhale is distinct, and the sounds of oil drills operating is prevalent throughout the film, adding to the sense of overwhelming loneliness of the city.
Alongside this, the use of pop music throughout the film counteracts the slow paced quality of the action onscreen, and the fluidity of the camerawork creates sequences that are reminiscent of music videos. Such as the sequence when The Girl tilts Arash’s head backwards whilst “Death” by Little Lies plays in the background, where the choreographed nature of their movements highlight Arash’s drugged state whilst simultaneously foreshadowing the romantic progression of their relationship – without any need for vocal dialogue.
If I had to describe this film as a combination of other films, I’d have to pick Eraserhead (David Lynch), Nosferatu (F.W Murnau), and Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard). All in all, I really enjoyed watching this film; despite its open ended conclusion (justifiable through the existential nature of the narrative plot) and I’d definitely recommend it to others for its soundtrack and the stunning cinematography alone.