A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night can be described as an ‘Iranian diaspora romantic vampire drama set in the western United States’

Is A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Dec. 5) truly ‘the first Iranian vampire western’, as its promotional material claims? Sadly, no – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing, assuming you can forgive the untruthful tagline.

First, however, let’s take a brief moment to dissect that impressive piece of ballyhoo. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is actually an American film, not an Iranian one, and it is not a western, though it was filmed in Bakersfield. Thankfully, there is a vampire… but this is no ordinary bloodsucking saga, and anyone anticipating a routine horror movie is in for further disappointment.

On the other hand, the film features a cast of Iranian émigrés and is entirely in Farsi. Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour (and based on her own comic book series), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night might more accurately be described as an ‘Iranian diaspora romantic vampire drama set in the western United States’, but that probably wouldn’t sell many tickets.

Set in fictional-but-representative-of-Tehran Bad City, the film follows the misadventures of Arash (Arash Marandi), a young man caring for his heroin-addicted father Hossein (Marshall Manesh). When drug dealer Saeed (The Taqwacores Dominic Rains, aka Amin Nazemzadeh) demands Hossein’s substantial debt to him be paid in full, Arash is compelled to hand over his gorgeous vintage car in lieu of payment.

Meanwhile, a mysterious, chador-clad woman (Sheila Vand) roams the mean streets of Bad City, where Saeed mistakes her for a prostitute. Taking her back to his bachelor pad, he discovers too late that her chador conceals neither a woman of virtue nor a lady of the night, but a vicious, hungry vampire.

In a convenient if questionable plot development, Arash drops by Saeed’s place and discovers the dealer’s corpse, his car keys, and a briefcase full of drugs and cash. Now he has enough medicine to feed his father’s habit, as well as enough tablets of ecstasy to ingratiate himself at a costume party which – ah, fate! – he’s chosen to attend dressed as Dracula. You can probably guess who he meets later that night.

Though the story is a little on the thin side, Amirpour displays enough style and taste to suggest she’s no one-trick pony. Shot in black and white and almost entirely at night (a conceit appropriate to a vampire film that also helps disguise Bakersfield as Tehran), the film provides lightly veiled commentary on the sexual politics of the Iranian revolution and the attitudes of Iranian men towards women.

Arguably the best ‘art-house vampire’ flick since Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night also features the most remarkable screen performance I’ve ever seen by a cat. Chubby short-haired tabby Masuka is a complete cutie who steals every scene he’s in, and seems to love being in the limelight. Perhaps a new star has been born.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box...