I'll tell you what, there's a lot of pleasure to be had in watching a real movie-movie. The kind that's totally drunk on the expressive potential of cinema and does not give a shit about what it's saying, as long as it says it with visual fervor. That's the spirit that animated the French New Wave, encouraged its generations of imitators, and finds excellent embodiment in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the first and I pray not the last feature written and directed by British-born Iranian-American filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour.

The film is a grab-bag of notions, and there are probably as many ways to describe it as there are viewers, so I'll simply tell it the way it describes itself: "the first Iranian vampire Western". And two of those words are already a big shaky - it's Iranian in that it is in Farsi and set in a desolate fictitious town of Bad City in Iran, but it was shot in rural California and the iconography is strictly that of small-town America in a neverwhen time that's as much the 1950s as the 2010s. And while it is aware of Westerns and steals from them, this is not the only or even primary genre that goes into its bones.

But it does have a vampire, a nameless woman with kohl-rimmed eyes played with appropriate distance and emptiness by Sheila Vand. We are told that Amirpour struck upon the idea of the film when wearing a chador and feeling that it made her look like a bat, and that's absolutely the vibe that the movie wallows in. As the vampire stalks through the city, sometimes on foot and sometimes on a skateboard, she registers first and foremost as an inky black presence, the darkest thing in every shot that contains her, even with the plethora of hard blacks provided by Lyle Vincent's unrelentingly gorgeous high-contrast monochrome cinematography. The film never does anything that would clearly define it as "horror", but there's still gloomy atmosphere to spare thanks constant nighttime presence of the vampire and her chador, a fluid and solid black shape dominating frames even when she's kept back in the very corner of the image.

That repeated visual motif is a fine anchor for a movie that's far more interested in what images make you feel than doing anything that hits at a deeper intellectual level (it is, in fact, almost conspicuously disinterested in following through on what appear to be obvious sociological readings of its content). Amirpour reveals herself to be something of an aesthetic sensualist with this film, and a robust, voracious cinephile, openly referencing a range of movies from Godard to Point Break, and falling in line with a tradition of wry formalism stretching back through Aki Kaurismäki (particularly in the music during its opening scene, a giddy circus-like motif that winds down and dies off) and Jim Jarmusch (the film's deadpan non-comedy and use of music are dead ringers for his work, and the fact that we even had a Jarmusch vampire picture in 2014, with Only Lovers Left Alive, makes the comparison even more irresistible). The shots are beautiful in the abstract, but they also tell keen little stories about the vampire, her victims (boorish, unpleasant men, for the most part), the run-down, sand-blasted world of Bad City. It's a mood piece, and the mood it creates is acerbic and desolate but also ironic enough that the movie ends up being rather a great deal of fun.

What the film does not have, admittedly, is much of any investment in storytelling or theme or psychology. While, eventually, a kind of narrative throughline reveals itself, mostly by not going away after it seems like it should have otherwise - it involves the vampire's kind of romantic-like relationship with Arash (Arash Marandi), whom she meets when he's coming home, stoned, from a costume party where he dressed as Dracula - A Girl Walked Home Alone at Night is primarily made up of incidents in which some unworthy soul crosses the vampire's path and pisses her off pretty good. The images don't recycle, but the same general kind of shots are used to make the same general kind of points, and it is ultimately the case that, while any ten-minute slice of the film is extraordinarily good stuff, it also pretty closely feels like any other ten-minute slice: particularly in the film's first two-thirds.100 minutes proves to be a lot more than the movie requires, and it's easy to get- well, I don't want to say "it's easy to get bored with it", because that means the wrong thing. But it's easy to feel like it's hit a point of being a little too much the same thing, in terms of plot, in terms of the girl, in terms of the cinematography.

Oh, but how great its strengths are! Whether the haunting creepiness of the stalking scenes or the detached humor of the vampire's home life, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night racks up a very large number of memorable moments. Bad City certainly proves to be one of the year's great movie locations: a wasteland of ex-civilisation, with old buildings standing in mute stolidity as the emptiness outside threatens to crush everything, while the low-rent inhabitants muddle through. There's personality oozing out of every lovingly detailed frame of the place, a strong sense of attitude and feeling that perfectly accompany the film's askance treatment of vampire lore. I don't know that the film says much about how people live and I don't know that Bad City evokes anything outside Amirpour's head, but it's captivating to watch and exploring through the vampire meandering through an endlessly fascinating experience. This is the kind of promising first feature that almost can't help but implying that its creator can't help but do better next time, but even as a stand-alone, this is a pretty one-of-a-kind experience, and well worth hunting down.