Vampires never really go out of fashion. They’ve been relocated from traditional Transylvania to almost any setting you can name, but their legend lives on. This week I saw another addition to the genre.
If you’d told me this film was about a young female vampire who falls for a man in a tight-fitting white t-shirt, I’d have assumed it was one of those angsty teen-targeted films that bagged a ton of cash at the box office.
If you’d told me the title, and that it was actually a horror film, I’d have leapt to conclusions and feared the worst for the titular girl. My gender-role conditioning, family fuelled paranoia and big brother status would all kick in. “Don’t do it! Take a taxi! I can’t watch!”
But if you’d told me the movie was tagged as ‘the first Iranian vampire western’, I’d have bitten your neck off for a ticket.
As it happens, Tuesday was International Women’s Day and I went to see this film at Liverpool Small Cinema as part of their #DirectedByWomen series. Before the film Dr Sarah Marie Hall, a lecturer in human geography at the University of Manchester, gave a fascinating talk titled Geographies of the street: gender fear and urban environments. My knowledge of feminist human geography is shamefully scant and I won’t do Sarah the disservice of poorly summarising her points here, but I hope she’s invited back by LSC. The lines she drew between public space, gender and austerity cuts were food for thought and an ideal introduction to the film.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (دختری در شب تنها به خانه میرود ) is a 2014 movie directed by Ana Lily Armipour, a British born Iranian-American. It was her first full feature following a number of well received shorts and despite glowing reviews, it received little distribution.
The film focuses on Arash (Arash Marandi), a hard-working labourer who lives with his junkie father in Bad City, a sort of Iranian ghost town. He has an unfortunate run in with drug dealing pimp Saeed (Dominic Rains), who confiscates Arash’s beloved convertible in lieu of Dad’s debts.
Outside, a fanged neck-biter in a chador stalks the night (Sheila Vand), intimidating a young boy, badgering a prostitute and tormenting the exploitative Saeed. When she’s not prowling the streets on a commandeered skateboard, our young vampire listens to 80s pop records on vinyl in a basement bedroom bedecked in BeeGees posters. When she meets Arash, off his head on pills, lost and dressed as Dracula, he is lovably childlike and shows her compassion. They hit it off, sort of.
The stories, such as they are, of all the aforementioned characters ultimately intertwine, but this film is really more of a stylised piece of cinematic spectacle than hardy narrative. Shot in black and white, it looks fabulous – Vand’s pallid face and cloak, the blackness of the night slashed with the stark street lights, or a stripy indiekid top smeared with blood.
The plot subverts the preconceptions suggested by the title, as we quickly discover that it is the girl, as vampire, who poses a threat to public and private space. This is echoed in several of the supporting characters. Despite seeming intentionally one-dimensional, each a kind of filmic touchstone for the audience (the bad guy, the apathetic addict, the hard-grafting hero, the exploited sex-worker, the shallow socialite, the innocent little boy), they never quite play to type. Having been set up as an insurmountable obstacle and villain of the piece, Saeed is immediately made comic by his laughably ‘erotic’ dance (and embarrassing ‘SEX’ tattoo), swiftly emasculated with some humorous horror, then dispatched inside the first half hour. The hero does nothing heroic; the addict more villain than victim; the child at first seems unfairly haunted – giving way to a sense he has been targeted lest he grow into one of the awful men of Bad City.
It’s a film that finds a balance between funny and fearful and one that might fall flat on the small screen. The pulsating sounds that forebode teeth sinking into flesh would lose their force on laptop speakers. The surf guitar and mariachi music lift the mundane moments of driving or walking into grandeur when blasted out in a cinema, showing Armipour’s cultural heritage as more Tarantino than Ayatollah. I don’t mean to be reductive. Both director and actor have talked in interviews about finding cultural identity as ‘first generation’ Iranian Americans and the need to make films about young people in Iran, without reference to struggle or resistance. Filmed in California but with all dialogue in Farsi, the film fittingly has a transnational feel to it.
I don’t know if AGWHAAN has a feminist message, but it certainly raises questions about social space, fear and gender and does so whilst remaining visually striking. It sounds as if the film was made quickly but with great enthusiasm and attention to detail. The result is something fun, tense and different. Clocking in at about an hour and forty minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome either, ideal for Old Rope as I can barely stay awake for anything past two hours these days.
Plus there is a big fat cat in a prominent role, which is always a plus.
If you can’t catch it on the big screen, go round to your mate’s house who has one of those cheap USB projectors and a decent set of hi-fi speakers. Check out the trailer below first and see if it’s your bag before you make them rig it all up in the living room.
“Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me alone.”Arash, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night