Thanks to a cinematic franchise featuring a couple of pouting teens, the vampire genre took a beating over the last six years. Sparkly vampires with shirtless werewolf hunk buddies managed to make a Dracula movie about as appetizing as low-grade supermarket steak half cooked and marinated in peanut butter.
That's changed this year, and with a vengeance. Jim Jarmusch gave us the delectable "Only Lovers Left Alive" with Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, and directors Derek Lee and Clif Prowse gave us the strange and creepy found footage "Afflicted."
As good as those films are, this year's best vampire flick would be "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night," the feature film debut for director Ana Lily Amirpour.
Set in the fictional land of Bad City, where drug dealers reign and a dry river bed features a mounting collection of dead bodies that garner no reaction from the general public, this is a truly inspired work.
The film is shot entirely in black and white, and is spoken in Farsi. Even though the movie has an Iranian feel to it, the movie was actually shot using locations in southern California. Adding to the cultural stew would be a soundtrack prominently featuring, of all things, Spaghetti Western music. Amirpour isn't afraid to mix things up.
Arash (Arash Marandi) lives with his drug-addicted father (Marshall Manesh) in Bad City. While he can barely make ends meet, he does own an awesome car. After losing the car to a local drug dealer (Dominic Rains), Arash finds himself lonely and depressed. And then, he meets The Girl (Sheila Vand).
The Girl is a young looking vampire who strolls the streets of Bad City at night (sometimes via skateboard) adorned in a black chador. We do get glimpses of her at home, where her bedroom walls are adorned with the likes of the Bee Gees and Madonna. She's a quiet sort, with a penchant for drinking the blood of bad men.
Arash and The Girl are the focus of a forbidden love story that reminds a bit of Adrian Pasdar and Jenny Wright in Kathryn Bigelow's vampire classic, "Near Dark." The Girl takes him to her lair, where they listen to "Death" by White Lies and slow dance. Arash isn't aware of her vampire ways, and The Girl refrains from giving him that unexpected, all too intrusive hickey.
Admittedly, not much happens in the film in a straightforward plot kind of way. "Girl" relies on its atmospherics rather than heavy dialogue to keep the viewer enthralled. While it isn't heavy on gore and explicit violence, it does contain a couple of stomach churning moments, including a vicious finger-sucking encounter.
As for that riverbed full of dead bodies, we do see the occasional characters dumping a corpse in it like a litterbug jettisoning a refrigerator in a river. It's a striking visual for sure and, like its vampire character, receives no real explanation or backstory. The death trench is just there and part of the everyday life for Bad City's inhabitants. Perhaps Amirpour included this as allegory for tragic conditions in Iran and other Middle Eastern territories. Or, perhaps, she included the death trench because it's totally scary looking.
No doubt, The Girl represents a sort of symbolic vengeance against some Muslim men for Muslim women. The chador acting as a vampire's cape is about as powerful a piece of symbolism you will see in a movie this year.
So, 2014 has marked the return of essential and quality vampire movie. "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" signals the arrival of a new filmmaking force that, I hope, will be putting good things on movie screens for years to come.