A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014): Feminist Vampires In The City
A girl walks home alone at night. What kind of imagery and emotions does that sentence conjure? Whatever they are, chances are you won’t see them in the stylish vampire film of the same title, which blends together elements of horror, noir, and romance. Chronicling the love story between emo hipsters in a California-Iran fusion city, Girl subverts subgenre tropes effortlessly and builds on the classic vampire genre in spaces never previously explored.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night follows Arash, a young guy who cares for his heroin-addicted father in fictional oil mining Bad City, Iran (filmed in Taft, California). Arash works for a rich family maintaining their home but struggles to scrape by– a situation not helped by relentless harassment from the local pimp/drug dealer, who is tangled up in Arash’s life due to his father’s debts.
Meanwhile, a young woman (unnamed, but credited as “The Girl”) stalks the streets of Bad City in a flowing chador, a large Iranian cloth wrapped around her head and upper body. She listens to music, skateboards around the streets, and occasionally seduces bad guys into taking her up to their apartment before draining their blood.
In one of the most surprisingly adorable meet-cutes in my film-watching life, The Girl meets Arash at a costume party, where Arash is appropriately dressed as Dracula and offers The Girl ecstasy. The Girl pops one pill and insists that Arash do the same. They spend the night flirting with one another before Arash strikes out with The Girl, who has taken a liking to Arash but is, in classic vampire fashion, an anti-social loner. The Girl is clearly infatuated with Arash but has developed a survival instinct that leaves her unable to be vulnerable.
The title A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night hearkens visions of female vulnerability that aren’t necessarily on full display in Girl, at least not by our protagonist. The titular “Girl” is the most dangerous thing trekking the streets at night– even though she only preys on those deserving of her vicious attention. The incredible Ana Lily Amirpour crafted Girl to be unabashedly feminist. The male gaze of a Bad City pimp is frequently turned in on itself. In one earlier scene, a sex worker sensually sucks on the pimp’s finger to satiate his gaze. Later, The Girl does the same before biting off his finger and devouring him.
The film’s multicultural wardrobes plays a key role in conveying some of Girl’s themes. Amirpour re-purposes the chador that The Girl wears as a vampire cloak rather than its traditional use. The politics of the chador in middle eastern culture, which I won’t pretend to be equipped to adequately address, are transcended from being a symbol of mandated modesty for women in this region to a mystic fashion statement. The Girl’s sense of style is a cultural mesh of Iranian and rural Californian– sporting modern tops and skinny jeans under a traditional style chador.
Arash: If there was a storm coming right now, a big storm, from behind those mountains, would it matter? Would it change anything?
Girl was marketed as a vampire western, but only qualifies under the latter descriptor by very loose standards. Sure, the film takes place in a rugged, desolate landscape and centers on a character, The Girl, who could be described as our stoic hero who does sometimes enact vengeance. Other than this, Girl lacks most other elements associated with the western genre. There are no gunslingers or outlaw gangs. Although it’s clear that Amirpour has a deep appreciation for the western genre, Girl could more easily be likened to a coming-of-age love story with elements of horror and noir.
But that’s one of the reasons why Girl is so hard to define or even describe. It is so many things at once and somehow unlike anything you’ve seen before. It’s a black-and-white Iranian vampire western coming-of-age horror noir feminist romance that is superb in breaking various cliches and hackneyed traits of explored each of these subgenres individually.
Take the vampire element as an example. Vampires in 21st century cinema went through some dramatic changes from their origins for better and, at times, for worse. The Girl is unlike vampires commonly associated with any particular era of the genre. While she does indeed stalk the night and drinks blood, her violent bloodlust is mostly underplayed– as she seems to be mostly in control of her thirst for blood. And though she is a sexualized figure, that is much less overt than in many other vampire flicks– as sexuality played a pivotal role in the source material of the mythology (19th century gothic novels) and at times has become the central focus of many vampire films.
Additionally, The Girl doesn’t seem to experience the same existential agony associated with a mythical creature who doesn’t age. She accepts her identity and situation and works to make the best of it; no backstory is required. The Girl is mostly carefree. There isn’t so much of a focus on the loneliness or feelings of being incomplete that a lesser vampire flick might have invoked. She’s tired of getting tangled in lives of the scumbags of Bad City, but she seems to be content in her role in overseeing its citizens from the shadows.
This makes her romance with Arash so beautiful to watch. They don’t link up because she needs a boyfriend– like in another modern vampire film. They’re two people, who have done terrible things and are at a crossroad in their lives. They’re ready to escape the terrible memories they’ve made in Bad City. And in ecstasy-fueled stupor, they accidentally fall in love. The narrative then evolves to be about how their very different lives might be able to merge together with or without all the attached baggage that the two characters bring to the relationship.
After Let The Right One In, I thought I had witnessed the vampire horror subgenre at its most visceral and intimate and gorgeous. But A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night shows that there’s so much more to be explored in the rich mythology laid out by a century of vampire movies (the first vampire film, a Russian adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula called “Drakula,” was released in 1920). Girl is a visually and sonically striking modern horror masterpiece– and a required viewing of even the most discerning of horror fans.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is available on blu ray, DVD, and digitally here. And be sure to check out the other entries in the The 31-Day 2010s Fear & Now Horror-Thon right here on Horror Theory.