“Twilight” this, “Twilight” that. Yes, I know about “Twilight”. I do not care about “Twilight”. That series of books and movies has single handedly tarnished the name of the vampire romance genre, one that I really like. So for this Halloween, I’ve come to you with three vampire romances not in the English language, because that’s usually where you have to look if you want quality.
“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” (2014): Persian
With a mouthful of a name like that, and a list of genres just as long, “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” is definitely the most unique of these three. Taking place in Bad City, an Iranian town ravaged by crime and oil drilling, this Neo-Noir Neo-Western Horror follows Arash and the titular “Girl”. Arash is in a tough spot because of his father’s crippling heroin addiction, and the Girl is experiencing crippling loneliness due to her vampirism. It’s just a bucket of laughs.
The pacing of the film is quite slow, with scenes that take their time, often utilizing a wide shot for their entire duration. While I think the writing is quite good, filled with character and subtext for days, the film is best when its presentation takes the wheel. The startlingly beautiful black and white photography is lovely, and the heavy emphasis on deep blacks and staging separate it from what I like to call “Film Student Black and White”(FSBW). This movie was clearly made to be in black and white, unlike FSBW, which is an incidental decision sparked by the filmmaker thinking that black and white = good cinematography.
Almost stronger than the photography is the music, which is a strange blend of pop, rock, and Spaghetti Western music which does a surprisingly good job at setting the tone. Even though I first saw this movie months ago, I still find myself humming the endlessly catchy soundtrack to this day. Knowing these two things, it makes sense that the movie is at its absolute best when it puts its visuals and music in the spotlight and takes some time to breathe. This is highlighted in my favorite scene in the movie, which I won’t spoil, but it’s glacially paced, and lets you get sucked into its hypnotic visuals and a killer song. It’s honestly so good that it justifies watching the movie in its entirety.
“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” is definitely the least approachable movie on this list, but if you let it immerse you into this slow world of crime and vampirism, then I’m sure you’ll love it. Give it a watch! But not at a Halloween party.
“Let the Right One In” (2008): Swedish
Author’s Note: Do not confuse this movie with its American remake, “Let Me In” (2010). That movie is not good. This one is.
“Let the Right One In”, despite all of the blood and guts you’d expect from a normal vampire romance, is one of the most shockingly wholesome romances on film. The aforementioned romance is between Oskar and Eli, who are two of the most well developed child characters I’ve seen in a very long time. Oskar is your standard bullied kid, but he hides an urge for violence which he doesn’t have the courage to act upon. Eli, a vampire who’s been 12 for hundreds of years, has just moved in with her most recent caretaker.
Lina Leandersson’s portrayal of Eli is one of the strongest aspects of the movie. She clearly communicates the amount of knowledge 200 years of life brings you while still acting like a child, which I think is remarkable. The friendship and eventual romance between Oskar and Eli is incredibly tender, with an emphasis on emotional connection you rarely see even in adult romance movies. Even with the romance elements, the film doesn’t sugarcoat the darker side of vampirism. The kills are terrifying and brutal, with a twinge of tragedy because of why they have to happen and who they happen to.
All of this is to say nothing of the beautiful photography of Hoyte van Hoytema, who I think is one of the best cinematographers working today. His use of predominantly soft lighting and intimate framing make small moments seem more important, and never emotionally detached. His work here is strong enough that it mostly makes up for the visual effects work, which has aged very poorly.
Apart from the aforementioned visual effects and some overbearing music, “Let the Right One In” is a fantastic take on the vampire romance genre. I’d highly recommend this one if you’re looking for a Halloween movie that’s disturbing and heartwarming at the same time.
“Thirst” (2009): Korean
Now this one’s a gruesome little number. Park Chan-wook’s wonderfully devilish vampire thriller “Thirst” is my personal favorite vampire movie, and the one here that least deviates from the vampire romance genre. Much like the rest of Park’s impeccable filmography, this movie jumps from frights to thrills to laughs with a deftness signature not only of his style, but the greater Korean New Wave movement.
The film follows Priest Sang-hyeon after he’s stricken with vampirism and forced to abandon his ascetic ways and give in to his desires. One of those desires is Tae-ju, a woman in a loveless marriage who decides she’s going to manipulate herself into a relationship with and subsequently become a vampire. The performances all around are excellent, with Song Kang-ho being particularly exemplary. His struggle to maintain his life as a priest while his primal desires slowly kill him is incredibly engaging. Of course, Song Kang-ho being the stand out role in a movie he stars in is unsurprising.
The presentation is also incredibly unique and exciting, utilizing extreme camera moves and edits, but never being afraid to shoot important scenes with wide shots. Like all of Park’s movies, the compositions are incredible, making great use of framing, lighting, and color, while never making them too distracting to enjoy the actual events of the story. This is helped by Kim Sang-bum’s standard incredible editing, which seamlessly catapults you through scenes that range from surreal to too real, while still knowing when to let shots hold.
“Thirst” embraces the inherent campiness of the vampire romance genre, but never goes overboard and becomes Twilight. That’s an incredibly difficult task in a genre saturated with schlock, but possible when you have the delicate hands of a master making it. “Thirst” is essential Halloween viewing if you’re looking for thrills, frights, or just a great time!