Just when you thought there was no gas left in the tank of revisionist vampire cinema, along comes A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, a tale billed as “the first Iranian vampire western.” Though it’s unlikely to become a crowded field, this black-and-white Farsi-language gem is rich in allusive metaphor (blood-oil-sex-religion) and deep, dark texture. First-time writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour comes by her genre bona fides honestly, via a palette of cinematic and literary influences—Jim Jarmusch most strikingly, but also Leos Carax, Jim Thompson, and Raymond Chandler—not usually seen in horror films of any nationality.

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And while Amanpour doesn’t deliver the visceral scare factor of Let the Right One In, she does manage to out-Jarmusch Jarmusch’s recent vampire inversion, The Only Lovers Left Alive. In the opening scene, a lean, rockabilly-styled kid rescues a stray cat and walks languidly through the sun-blanched streets of the deserted desert town Bad City. As he crosses a small bridge, oil derricks pumping savagely in the distance, you only casually notice the ravine full of corpses below his feet, and understand that you’re in for a smart, super-creepy film that demands and rewards close attention.

And speaking of close attention: Don’t take your eyes off the colossally alluring Sheila Vand, whose performance as “The Girl” is a quintessential starmaker moment for an actress who has been doing excellent work under the radar for years. Lurking in shadows, shrouded by the heavy cloth of her traditional veils and the political implications they carry, Vand’s presence anchors the film (though in something you can’t quite call “reality”) and keeps it from simply being a stylish exercise. recommended

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