IN HORROR MOVIES, and sometimes in life, a girl alone at night is a victim. Shadows are ominous, noises are frightening, and footsteps are a threat—if they speed up, she's in real trouble. The night doesn't belong to her.
Which is just part of why Ana Lily Amirpour's debut feature film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is so exhilarating. The Girl (Sheila Vand) is a taciturn, hijab-clad vampire in a tiny Iranian town called Bad City, gliding through the deserted streets like a not-so-friendly ghost. The night is her domain, though the men she encounters might assume otherwise. The Girl does what she wants, and usually what she wants is to drink somebody.
Her victims tend to be men who do bad things to women, though whether she's wreaking revenge or protecting other women is not entirely clear. The Girl doesn't talk much. We can only judge her actions. Her first victim is a drug dealer with elaborate facial hair, sculpted abs, and a neck tattoo that just says "SEX." She bites off his finger before she kills him—and then, blood on her mouth, she paws critically through his CD collection.
But Girl Walks Home isn't some campy grindhouse revenge flick: At its heart, unexpectedly and wonderfully, it's a decadent, big-screen love story. One night, the Girl encounters a handsome young man walking home from a costume party. He's on E and dressed as Dracula; she considers killing him, but takes him home instead. It's obviously meant to be.
Arash (Arash Marandi) and the Girl barely exchange 10 words over the course of the film, and they certainly don't discuss anything so pedestrian as what it might mean for an immortal apex predator to fall in love with a protein shake. Instead, they smolder and brood, and listen to meaningful music, and stand very, very close to each other. (The pivotal scene between the two is so gloriously, unapologetically, all-the-feelings-at-once romantic that Tumblr is almost certainly going to collapse under its weight.)
A million influences come to bear on every frame of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and the cultural context is almost defiantly impossible to untangle: Set in Iran, written and directed by a California-raised Iranian American, cast with many Iranian actors, the film's influences range from white-hat westerns to gangster noir to comic books to The Last Picture Show's small-town despair to any John Hughes movie where unlikely lovers make meaningful eye contact. Portland band Federale even reps Oregon on the soundtrack, and their high-drama spaghetti western sound is a perfect fit. Anne Rice should get a nod too, or whoever it was that first made vampires sexy. Beneath the Girl's hijab, a striped shirt and cropped pants suggest a gamine in the Audrey Hepburn model.
Amirpour's camera does a lot of the storytelling work in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, from subtle shifts in perspective to the wry, carefully composed wide shots of the black-clad Girl as she drifts behind unsuspecting victims. It's a gorgeous movie that's meant to be looked at: Though its characters don't have much to say, the atmosphere between the two leads is so charged that just watching them think about each other is more than enough.