Ana Lily Amirpour's new film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is a late holiday stocking for film fans, stuffed as it is with a jumble of genres, homages and arresting images. That said, it is wholly original: There isn't another film about an Iranian teenage girl vampire out there.
Amirpour used Southern California locations to depict life in "Bad City," a lonesome small Iranian town marked by rusted industrial sites, empty streets and — in the film's opening scene — a gully full of dead bodies.
The film, shot in a wide ratio and high-contrast black and white, moves at the languid pace of a European arthouse feature. The spare plot is presented in a series of vignettes, and focuses on a few of Bad City's demi-monde: a petty criminal named Arash (Arash Marandi), his junkie dad, a prostitute and a drug dealer. Intersecting their lives is an unnamed teenage girl (Sheila Vand), the aforementioned vampire.
The girl lives in a basement room festooned with posters of 1980s pop stars, and glides the nighttime streets, clad in a black chador (resembling, of course, a traditional "Dracula" cape) and a striped boater T-shirt (recalling Jean Seberg, in Breathless). She kills, but she also aids — you could almost add "riot grrl" to the list of Girl's influences. (Did I mention she skateboards, too?)
Throughout, the film is beautifully shot and composed. Its wide-screen framing resembles a Western, an allusion further underscored by spaghetti-Western style music. (Other scenes are set to jaunty 1960s-ish pop music.) Nods to classic cinema are rife — from the sexualized vampire attack, composed of close-ups of mouths, eyes and fingers, to the slow-motion Fellini-esque entr'acte in which a drag-queen cowgirl dances with a balloon.
Running through the dreamlike Girl is a palpable sense of loneliness — from the boarded-up suburban houses and scrubby landscapes to the failure of its characters to make meaningful connections.
But Girl also adds "romance" to its mash-up bag, sketching out a relationship of sorts for the girl and the equally lonely and yearning Arash. After a fateful encounter — the night they meet, Arash is dressed as Dracula for a costume party — the two find a purpose in escaping Bad City. "You don't know me ... I've done bad things," the girl warns Arash.
But who hasn't, the film suggests, and if one is condemned to the darkness, why not have a companion?