Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi
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They fly. They bite. Now, they skateboard. It’s safe to say that A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night introduces vampires as you’ve never seem them before.
Ana Lily Amirpour’s directorial debut is an almost achingly cool affair, one that sinks its teeth into genre trends and mixes them with other strains of cinema to produce something that fizzes with ideas. The film doesn’t just unfold on a screen: it pops.
Our story is set in the fictional Bad City, a small town that feels familiar but strange: it’s shot in California, but everyone speaks Farsi; the streets are deserted like a Western, but surrounded by the oil derricks of the Middle East; through them stalks our undead vampire (Sheila Vand), who is also a girl.
That central conflict feels right at home in such an eerie world of juxtaposition. She is lonely as much as the town is isolated, a neverwhere that, like all good Westerns, is a frontier between the old and the new, between vinyl and cassette tape, between the mortal and immortal. And so we see our hero of the piece, gardener Arash (Arash Marandi), struggling, like the teen vamp, to come of age, to find his way through the wild world of adolescence into adulthood.
His gunslinging saviour is the Girl, who rides into his life on a skateboard: Clint Eastwood meets Bart Simpson. Instead of bullets, she has fangs. Instead of spurs, black lipstick and eyeliner, which she ritually applies before going out. And, more importantly, she has hormones.
Sheila Vand is mesmeric as the creature, her eyes sultry, scary and doe-eyed all at once. They narrow, as she spies her victim across the dusty road, then open wide when in her bedroom, dancing and listening to Radio Tehran and White Lies (their song, tellingly called Death, plays during one cute encounter). All the while, her cape-like veil, worn over a striped jumper, gives the impression of Dracula crossed with someone from the Beano.
It’s a constant game of subversion: she is alluring and deadly when faced with a cruel drug dealer, who is exposed as amusingly pathetic, but when she meets a young boy, she is scary rather than sympathetic.
Marandi is just as sweet as the hedge-trimming kid, who worked 2,192 days to affair his retro car. The sight of one pushing the other along the pavement on wheels manages to be funny and unnerving in equal measure. Their burgeoning romance climaxes later, though, when he draws blood from her – rather than the other way around – while offering a takeaway hamburger. Lionel Ritchie plays in the background. “The sad songs hit the spot, don’t they?” he asks.
Together, they make a curiously natural couple. She emerges as a feminist protector of abused prostitutes and bringer down of corrupt authority; like the derricks nearby, she sucks power from the rocks of this society. Arash’s enemy, meanwhile, emerges not as the man holding debt over his head, but his drug-addicted father, who is preventing him from growing up.
The result is a fun, and darkly comic, romance that revels in the rush of looming maturity. At times, Amipour’s style seems more about surface than substance, but what surface it is. She presents it all through the hard-lined monochrome of a graphic novel, accompanied by twanging guitar. It’s the kind of pure pulp fiction you can imagine Quentin Tarantino making in his youth. And if, like Tarantino, this striking flourish of talent occasionally feels like it’s trying almost too hard, that only chimes in with its naive protagonists, each putting on an air to achieve what they must.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night flies past you with the whoosh of a new voice so cool that you can almost see the “whoosh”. “Did you see that film with the vampire on a skateboard?” people will ask in years to come.
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