Creature Double Feature: A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and Only Lovers Left Alive

Recently I had the pleasure of watching two unusual vampire movies back to back (or at least on consecutive nights) - an Iranian film called A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, and the western made Only Lovers Left Alive.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is the first, and so far only, Iranian feminist vampire spaghetti western. It's an odd film, but a really fun one. The vampire, referred to only as The Girl, is a dark eyed specter of malevolence, gliding through the streets of Bad City (yes, that's actually the name of the town in the movie) in search of her prey, who seem to consist mostly of men who abuse and victimize women. Clad in a Parisian striped shirt and chador, her basement apartment decorated with feminist punk and rock posters, she cuts a surprisingly menacing figure. It's a New Wave horror movie, more concerned with atmosphere than scares, but there is a surprisingly tense moment when she meets a young boy skateboarding down a deserted alley. Her voice rises and falls, descending to an animalistic snarl. And then she keeps the skateboard that he drops when he flees, which was so funny to me because I had to wonder if that was the whole point of scaring the crap out of him.

Although The Girl is the most interesting character, it is Arash who dominates the narrative. He's introduced as a James Dean figure, leaning casually against a fence in his white t-shirt and jeans. He seems so handsome and cool, driving a beautiful 60s sports car - right up until he gets back to the home he shares with his junkie father, who injects heroin between his toes and racks up debts with his drug dealer. He owes the dealer so much money that the dealer takes Arash's beloved car as payment.

I don't want to give away too much about the film, because I really hope you will see it. I found it so delightful. Not only does it have a stark, New Wave meets noir meets pulp atmosphere, it's surprisingly funny. One standout scene involves a drug-addled Arash, who has dressed up as Dracula for a party and gotten hopelessly lost trying to get home, meeting The Girl (you know, an actual vampire), who pushes him to her home on her purloined skateboard. It's surprising, hilarious, and weirdly sweet, while also maintaining a slight degree of tension, which is how I would describe most of the movie.

Only Lovers Left Alive is similar in many ways. Like A Girl, it's moody, beautifully shot, and far more concerned with atmosphere and aesthetics than plot. Unlike A Girl, the vampires - Adam and Eve, played by the ethereal Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston - are the center of the story. After long centuries of nocturnal life, Adam is becoming bored, frustrated, and listless. The only thing tethering him to life anymore is his love of Eve - his wife - and his love of music. Eve, by contrast, is still fascinated and enchanted by the world, and surrounds herself with beautiful books and fabrics and people. They live apart (I mean, I probably wouldn't want to see even someone that I really loved every day if I knew I was going to live forever), but when Eve senses Adam's need, she goes to him in Detroit to help give him back his spark.

These vampires are both urban and urbane, sipping purified blood - and yes, blood contamination is a big concern for these vampires - from tiny chalices and following a strict series of rituals. Clad all in black (Adam) or white (Eve), they cut striking figures, like sexy rock and roll gods. Their quiet existence is disrupted by the appearance of Eve's wild sister, Ava, who throws everything into disarray.

What's really striking about this movie is the sensuality. Eve's world is all rich textures and vibrant colors, the white-washed walls and winding paths of Tangier, her city, standing in stark contrast to the bleakness that surrounds Adam. He lives amidst the decay of Detroit, all crumbling houses and deserted streets. His own house is filled with instruments and electronics and all of the things that he's held onto over the years, both broken and whole. It's hard not to think that the movie is trying to say something about modern life, and how to keep going in the modern age.

I very much enjoyed both movies, although if you were only going to see one, I would recommend A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night over Lovers. While both had their charms, I preferred the way that A Girl leavened the mood and atmosphere with absurdist humor to Lovers' more elegiac tone.

So, what have you guys seen lately that you loved?