Over the last decade, the vampire has evolved on film. What I’m namely talking about is Let the Right One In (2008), an adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s brilliant novel, What We Do in the Shadows (2014), a hilarious spoof, and The Transfiguration (2016). All of these films take the vampire away from the image of a Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee-type fanged, cape-wearing monster. Let the Right One In features a beautiful friendship between its child-like vampire and a bullied boy named Oskar. The Transfiguration has much in common with George A. Romero’s brilliant vampire flick Martin, in that you’re never fully sure if the protagonists are a vampire or not, but each is obsessed with the idea of being a vampire the vampire mythos.
Classic monsters, such as vampires, need to change with the times, and their ability to do so is why they’ve been around for hundreds of years. One of the most innovative vampire films of this decade is A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), a genre-bender by Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour, who was transplanted to the states with her parent as a kid.
The plot of the film is simple. It takes place in a fictional town called Dead City, and it features a female vampire simply named Girl (Shelia Vand), who feeds to live and ultimately falls in love with a James Dean-type character, Arash (Arash Marandi). The black and white film is a lot of things- noirish, a western, horror, incredibly sleek, stylized, and subversive. It also features one of the coolest vampire figures ever seen on screen. She skateboards, steals jewelry from deserving victims, murders abusers and pimps, and dances around her apartment to indie pop. She warns Arash that to love her is to know and accept all of the bad things that she does. She is endearing but also terrifying, telling a young boy in one scene that if he doesn’t behave, she’ll rip out of his eyes and feed them to dogs.
In an interview with Wired back in 2014, Amirpour didn’t downplay the feminist underpinnings of the film, saying, “I think [the film] can be feminist if that’s what people think,” adding, “People also say, ‘Is it political? Are you making a political statement?’ I just know what I am; I don’t know what everyone else is.”
It’s hard not to acknowledge some of the feminist undertones of the film, especially if you accept that Dead City is supposed to be in Iran, a county not exactly known for women’s rights. Even the title and the fact the female vampire skateboards or walks alone at night is significant. Furthermore, Girl dances and wears eye-shadow and lipstick. Some of her victims are so ridiculously masculine that it’s hard not to laugh at their absurdity. For instance, one of her first victims, Saeed (Dominic Rains), invites her to his pad, which looks like a scene from Scarface, including a coffee table dusted with cocaine and a gun. He dances in front of the mirror to thumping techno music, gazing at his muscular body, before advancing on Girl, who gives him what he deserves.
In another scene, Girl avenges Atti (Mozahn Marno), a prostitute who is shot up with heroin by Arash’s father, Hossein (Marshall Manesh), a junkie. Besides Arash, Atti is one of the only relationships that Girl has and admits that she watches her and notices her sadness. Girl says to her, “You’re sad. You don’t remember what you want. You don’t remember wanting. It passed long ago. And nothing ever changes,” to which Atti responds, “Idiots and rich people are the only ones who think things can change.”
Girl (Shelia Vand) and Atti (Mozahn Marno)
While Atti’s dialogue fits her character, someone hardened from a life on the streets, the actions of Girl as both a female avenger and subversive portrayal of feminine power in a restrictive culture, show that resistance can exist, even in the most oppressive societies. Furthermore, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night takes the image of the vampire, traditionally masculine, and subverts it as much as Let the Right One In did. This is probably why when Girl first meets Arash he’s wearing a cape and vampire fangs, stumbling home from a costume party. He’s a parody of the male vampire figure in that scene, in such a drunken state that he can’t even find his home, say his name without slurring, or cause any harm to Girl. He is totally powerless.
Since the release of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Amirpour already has another film under her belt, The Bad Batch, and she directed an episode of “Castle Rock.” Here’s hoping that she continues directing horror films because the genre, and film in general, needs more women behind the camera, especially ones like Amirpour, willing to make previous horror staples, like the vampire, unique and interesting.