Souvenirs From Bad City

Souvenirs From Bad City

Trigger Warnings For The Film

  • Drug abuse, drug paraphernalia
  • Gore
  • Death
  • Trauma
  • Non-consensual sex and non-consensual drug-related activities

Some of these concepts are described in varying levels of detail in this post.

(Photo credit Gina Haraszti)

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

In the catalogue for the Vermont International Film Festival, this breathtaking film was described as a "feminist Iranian horror vampire movie". Scrumptious, scarring, Ana Lily Amirpour's film is as much a frightening sensorial experience as an exercise in unpeeling the thrall that vampire movies have held over Western audiences for decades.

Bad City, the fictional landscape of the movie, reminds the viewer of tumbleweeds floating from one side of a movie screen to the other, of anxieties and fears during the conquest of the “Wild West”, of the dust bowl that plagued the American midwest during the 30s. Bad City is, on the surface, brutally lonely, deserted of love (langoureux), and achingly familiar. The film operates on a canvas of post-colonization and desolation, littered with screeching, scarecrow-like oil drums, rundown buildings, and garbage heaps.

The movie itself was shot in the Californian desert (plausibly for practical reasons, as Amirpour is situated in Los Angeles). It's ironically fitting that the fictional canvas is using American soil to depict the movie’s horror narrative. The story may be situated in a fictional Iran, the characters are speaking Persian, underneath the film's veneer of "the Middle East", the Western audience is actually looking at a Californian setting.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is not what I expected. While the film's feminism is present, opaque, almost foreign to a North American perspective, I suspect the designers piecing together the VIFF's brochure were under the impression that if a woman is a force of nature, stalking and killing men after dusk, then that woman must be a feminist archetype. The film does deal with archetypes in an intimate way. Weeks after seeing the film, local boy's Arash's trials and struggles, the binding narrative thread of the movie, fades from my mind and the vampire's silhouette remains.

The nameless vampire of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a Lilithian figure stalking boys, women, criminals, and the old men of Bad City. She rides into town on a bad wind, her veil billowing like a superhero's cape, rolling on the skateboard she stole from one of the local boys. In the credits, the vampire is only called "Girl" - her namelessness is intriguing. Her silent, goulish, trickstery nature reminds me greatly of the Babylonian demon Lilith. Her haunted eyes, observing the humans of Bad City, remind me also of the Greek monster Lamia (once a beautiful woman who came under Hera's ire) who ate her children, and of the way she obsessively tortured herself by mourning over her own victims. Interestingly, Lamia was often confused with Lilith by Latin translators in late antiquity and into the Middle Ages.

In A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Atti, a beautiful woman who sees first hand what the vampire is capable of doing, asks "What are you?", and the creature is incapable of answering. But when asked "Are you a thief?" the vampire's answer is a strong "No", even though the audience has seen her steal music CDs, watches, and other luxury items off of her dead victims. The vampire's interiority eludes the audience, while the other characters in the film are inexorably drawn to it.

When later the vampire is offered a hamburger by Arash (that she refuses) the silence created by Arash's exclamation of surprise is resonant. "I've never seen anyone refuse a hamburger!" exclaims the still-ignorant Arash. This discussion of food, followed by an earnest discussion about what music they last listened to - sometimes sad music is just right - for the first time in the film we see the vampire fleeing a situation with something like despair as she tells Arash "I am evil."

There's a textuality surrounding consumption in this film - food, drugs, bodies, blood, the earth. The relationships between the characters are defined by their consuming of other beings - and the vampire that roams Bad City is the most explicit expression of that consumption. Yet she is also Bad City's redemption, terrifying the boys into good behaviour and killing pimps and drug lords.

In Hebraic texts recorded in the 8th century, Lilith was Adam's first wife, cast out of Eden for lack of subservience. Ana Lily Amipour's vampire in A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night dances around that legend well - hauntingly cast away, she roams an urban desert in darkness. Her tiny frame, her veil, and her large eyes remind one of a fragile, delicate young lady. In this world, the delicate young lady is the cosmic, supernatural force to fear.

What I want to know, is how long it takes before Arash figures that one out.

Image Source


Leinweber, D. W. “Witchcraft and Lamiae in ‘The Golden Ass’”. Folklore 105. UK: Taylor & Francis Group, 1994: 77-82.

Ogden, D. Night’s Black Agents: Witches, Wizards, and the Dead in the Ancient World. New York: Hambledon Continuum, 2008.

Robert Graves and Raphael Patai. Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis New York: Doubleday, 1964. pp 65-69

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