An artsy black-and-white quasi-horror/romance film, released in 2014 and written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour. Though it was marketed as a modern-day Iranian vampire Western, starred a number of actors of Middle Eastern descent, and had all dialogue in Farsi, it was actually an American movie, filmed in the small town of Taft, California

The film's stars included Sheila Vand as the Girl, Arash Marandi as Arash, Marshall Manesh as Hossein, Arash's junkie father, Dominic Rains as the abusive pimp and drug pusher Saeed, Mozhan Marno as Atti, a prostitute, Rome Shadanloo as Shaydah, a wealthy socialite, and Milad Eghbali as a street urchin. 

The tale is set in Bad City, a grimy industrial wasteland. While the clean-cut and moderately honest Arash tries to keep his father clean of drugs, he loses his beloved car to the rotten and heavily tattooed Saeed, who takes it to recover Hossein's debts. But it isn't long before Saeed gets his comeuppance -- he tries to seduce a girl wearing a chador, which ends badly for him after she pops fangs, bites his finger off, and murders him. From there, the film alternates from the awkward, slow-burning romance between Arash and the Girl, to scenes of the weirdly stylized decadence and poverty of Bad City, to the Girl roaming the streets looking for her next meal. Is there hope for love for a nice Iranian boy and a hipster Iranian vampire? Or is Arash going to end up at the bottom of the corpse-filled ditch on the outskirts of town?

I'm not sure I would call this a horror movie. Yes, there's a vampire. Yes, she stalks and kills. Yes, there are moments of dread and fear -- the Girl dispatching Saeed is sudden and shocking and brutal, and her threats against the terrified street urchin are definitely frightening -- but there's a much stronger emphasis on romance than on horror, and it feels a lot more like watching a foreign art-house film than a vampire flick. 

That doesn't mean it's not worth watching, even for hardcore horror fans. The modern Middle East is a setting rarely utilized in horror cinema -- and it should be used more, because there's so much of Middle Eastern society that cries out for horror films, from the rich mythology to the clash of Western and Muslim values to the just-under-the-skin immoralities that fester in any strongly fundamentalist culture. There's only a little true horror in this film, but it certainly illustrates the need for smart horror that touches on every culture, not just Caucasian Western culture. 

And the film is really spectacularly beautiful. You could pause the movie at almost any point and find something you could print and hang on your wall. Cinematographer Lyle Vincent, production designer Sergio De La Vega, art director Sam Kramer, and costume designer Natalie O'Brien paint a city in black, white, and gray, creating astounding iconography and crafting visuals that aren't just gorgeous, but deeply cool as well. Watching the trailer will give you some idea of how gorgeous (and how weird) the movie is, but it's especially impressive when you watch it and realize just how good everything looks. 

I especially dig how weirdly disconnected the film is in time. Almost every character seems to embody a different decade or time period -- Atti pulls her style out of the 1930s and '40s, Arash looks like a 1950s greaser, Saeed is a stereotyped 1990s/2000s crime lord, and the Girl, with her striped shirt and pixie cut and dreamy dancing to old records in her movie-poster-filled flat, absolutely exudes 1960s cool. This timelessness is enhanced by the soundtrack, which is composed mostly of Iranian pop songs and Morriconesque spaghetti western music. 

Favorite bits of trivia: actress Sheila Vand wasn't able to ride a skateboard, so director Amirpour, a skilled skater, took care of the scenes where the Girl rides her stolen skateboard around Bad City. Amirpour also cameos as the girl in the skeleton makeup at Shaydah's party, and her face is on one of the posters in the Girl's apartment. 


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