Bad City, a comic book mesh of Iran and the US – like the film’s writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour – where pimps, whores and drug addicts fill the street at night, watched over by a lone girl in the shadows: a vampire in a veil.
The genre is given new cultural significance in this middle-eastern setting despite being shot in the Californian desert. The chador becomes a cape. The meek silence of an impassive woman becomes more an ominous threat. The Girl isn’t lead around by men, she stalks them.
The vampire becomes an icon of female empowerment and violent revenge as the seemingly vulnerable girl walking home alone at night is actually the predator here. Yet still, after punishing a lowlife pimp who closely resembles Ninja from Die Antwoord, this moral avenger knows she has done wrong. She is bad. Sinful even.
Shot in black and white, spoken in Farsi, and with a sleek soundtrack comprised of indie, punk, traditional Iranian music and tinges of Ennio Morricone, the film is aware of how cool it is, or at least how cool it wants to be – take for instance our vampire’s penchant for skateboarding, or our James Dean modelled hero Arash.
The confidence of the film, reinforced by often beautiful composition, does allow certain scenes to unfold slowly and with greater impact. One truly beautiful scene sees Arash in The Girl’s room, dressed up as Dracula, very gradually approaching her back. A spinning disco-ball throws fractured light around the room, adorned with slightly off iconic music posters (think: Ghana’s bootleg movie posters), as the distance between them is closed so very slowly, lasting almost an entire song.
Unfortunately these slower, more deliberate scenes are dropped in favour of typical genre conventions, steering into something much more predictable with less flair and originality. There isn’t much to the story itself, and some crucial moments and character decision’s really don’t add up.
Overall the film does feel a little style over substance, but it sure is a sleek style worth paying attention to. At times.