If you’ve ever seen A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, you probably know that it’s widely considered a modern classic of feminist horror, and rightly so. The film is about a female vampire who walks the streets of a fictional Iranian town called Bad City and feeds on men who abuse and mistreat women, so it more than earns its status as a tour de force takedown of misogyny.
But what’s not nearly as well known is that A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night isn’t just about abuse in general. If we pay close attention to the vampire’s victims, we can see that it also homes in on a particular kind of abuse: sex trafficking. Granted, the movie never makes this theme explicit, but it’s definitely there. We just have to know what to look for, and once we do, it becomes impossible to miss. It makes the film even more powerful than it’s normally given credit for, so let’s take a deep dive into A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and see just how it portrays the misogynistic horrors of sex trafficking.
A Twisted Trafficker
Let’s start with the vampire’s first victim, a drug dealer and pimp named Saeed. When A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night first introduces us to this character, it’s clear right away that he’s a terrible person. He’s a ruthless drug dealer who doesn’t give one whit about his customers’ well-being, but a few scenes later, we learn that he’s actually much worse than we realized. This guy doesn’t just sell drugs. He also sells women.
In particular, Saeed pimps a woman named Atti, and when we see these two characters interact, it’s clear that the woman doesn’t work for him by choice. There’s a scene where they talk in a car after Atti’s “shift,” and she gives him all the money she made that night. Understandably, she’s anxious to get her cut of the profits, but before Saeed gives it to her, he makes her perform some sexual acts on him, starting with sucking his finger (I know that’s a weird detail to point out, but it’ll become important later on).
Then, after she finishes, he refuses to give Atti her cut. He says she’s “light,” meaning that she didn’t make enough money that night, and in a fit of anger, he forcefully throws her out of the car. Finally, to literally add insult to injury, he tells her, “Next time, you focus on your job. Understand? And quit your crying, hag!”
If everything you know about sex trafficking comes from the Taken films, you might not realize what’s going on here. You might think that Atti and Saeed have a consensual business relationship, and Saeed simply happens to take advantage of his legitimate employee. But you’d be dead wrong.
See, sex trafficking is more than just kidnapping girls and women who go to foreign countries by themselves. Sure, that’s one way to do it, but it can take many other forms as well. The definition of sex trafficking is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.”
And if we view this scene through that lens, the true nature of Saeed and Atti’s relationship becomes pretty obvious. When Saeed throws Atti out of the car and tells her to “focus on [her] job” next time, he’s using force and coercion, so by definition, this is trafficking. On top of that, I’ve read numerous first-hand accounts of this terrible crime from women who’ve been through it themselves, and Saeed and Atti’s relationship fits in perfectly with those stories.
For example, Saeed’s irrationally angry outburst, his use of force, and his sexual abuse of Atti are all typical of sex traffickers, and if we skip ahead to a later scene in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, we find even more confirmation of this. After the vampire kills Saeed, Atti meets her and has a conversation with her, and the bloodsucker makes a very insightful observation about the poor woman. She says, “You don’t like what you do…You’re sad. You don’t remember what you want. You don’t remember wanting. It passed long ago, and nothing ever changes.”
Even after her pimp is killed, Atti still keeps selling herself to men, and at first, that may seem to imply that she was in fact doing it willingly for Saeed. However, a closer look tells a different story. Many trafficked women are so emotionally and psychologically hurt from their abuse that they have trouble leaving that life, and even if they do manage to get out, some will even return to it soon afterwards. They often don’t have anywhere else to go, and many of them simply don’t know any other way to live.
It’s a really tragic pattern, and Atti’s arc in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night fits it to a tee. As the vampire astutely observes, Atti doesn’t like selling her body to random men, but she keeps doing it anyway, and she’s even forgotten what it’s like to want anything else. It’s clear that she’s gone through some really intense trauma and abuse, and once again, that’s a tell-tale sign that Saeed didn’t just manage her. He trafficked her.
Punishing a Pimp
Significantly, as Saeed and Atti have their conversation in the car, the vampire watches them from a short distance away, and at first, we’re not entirely sure why. However, as A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night goes on, the answer becomes pretty clear. Almost immediately after that scene, Saeed runs into the vampire, and he takes her back to his apartment.
He plans on having sex with her, but unsurprisingly, she has other ideas. She plays his game initially, and she even sucks his finger just like Atti did in the car, but then she flips the script on the guy. She bites his finger off, and as he’s cowering in fear and pain, she bites him on the neck and kills him.
And with that, it becomes pretty clear why she kept a close eye on his conversation with Atti. By sucking Saeed’s finger and then suddenly reversing the power dynamics, she subtly hints that she’s paying him back for all the abuse he’s doled out to Atti, so she was almost certainly watching them to protect the woman.
Granted, she didn’t swoop in and rescue Atti right then and there, but if Saeed had tried to seriously injure or even kill her, I’m sure she would’ve. However, since he didn’t, the vampire waited until he was alone, and when it was just the two of them, she finally meted out the justice he deserved.
And if there’s any doubt about that, a scene in the latter half of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night seals the deal for us. Remember, Atti and the vampire eventually meet, and when they do, the bloodsucker gives Atti more than just some insightful words. She also gives the woman a bunch of jewelry to make up for the money Saeed refused to pay her earlier in the movie, so it’s pretty obvious that she’s been looking out for her the whole time.
The Other Side
With Saeed, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night deals with one half of the trafficking issue, but the people who sell women are only part of the problem. The other half is the men who buy trafficked women (without them, the traffickers would be out of business!), and the film has a character who represents them too. There’s a heroin-addicted man named Hossein who seems to be a regular “customer” of Atti’s, and as you can probably guess, he gets punished for his crimes against her as well.
Unlike Saeed, Hossein actually interacts with Atti twice in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and both times, the vampire lies close at hand. First, soon after Saeed’s death, there’s a scene where Hossein talks to Atti and pleads with her to spend some time with him, but she’s completely uninterested. She tells him to get back to her when he has money, so he’s clearly not just an old friend who wants to catch up. No, he wants to use her to make himself feel better, and even though his request is a lot more innocent than what she’s probably used to, he’s still treating her like an object.
He’s still contributing to her abuse and helping to keep her trapped in the life of sex trafficking, so unsurprisingly, the vampire watches this entire conversation from across the street. She makes sure Atti stays safe, and when the woman leaves, she continues stalking Hossein. At first, she just stares at the guy, but she soon starts mimicking every move he makes. It’s pretty ominous, so Hossein eventually gets creeped out and runs away.
The vampire doesn’t follow him, but the next time these two characters meet, Hossein isn’t nearly as lucky. Towards the end of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, after Hossein’s son Arash gets fed up with his drug habit and kicks him out of the house, he goes to Atti and buys some time with her. At first, he just asks her to dance in a sensual manner, but he soon ups the ante and shows his true colors.
He wants her to do heroin with him, but she refuses. She draws a very firm line in the sand, and she repeatedly tells him that she won’t do it. However, Hossein won’t take no for an answer. He holds her down and forcibly injects her with the drug, and the scene is filmed in such a way that it almost looks like he’s going to force her to have sex with him.
And the way I see it, that essentially makes this scene a metaphor for the kind of abuse trafficking victims experience. I don’t think I need to go into too much detail here, but suffice it to say that these women are forced to have sex over and over again against their will, and Hossein forcing Atti to do heroin with him is a pretty good metaphor for that.
Then, almost immediately after Hossein sticks the needle into Atti, the vampire swoops in, and she kills the guy just like she killed Saeed. Once again, she metes out the justice this abuser sorely deserves, and she shows that she really has been looking out for Atti and protecting her throughout the entire movie.
The Film’s Anti-Trafficking Message
To be fair, I don’t know if Ana Lily Amirpour, the writer and director of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, intended this anti-trafficking message. In fact, she famously said in an interview one time that she didn’t intend this to be a feminist film at all. Rather, when asked about the movie’s feminist leanings, she said, “I think people tend to see themselves in films…All the stuff that’s written [about this being a feminist movie], the more I see it and read it, I think it tells more about the person writing it. A film is an opportunity to look at yourself, really.”
Given that statement, I wouldn’t be surprised if sex trafficking was the furthest thing from Ana Lily Amirpour’s mind when she made A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, but whatever her intentions may have been, it’s tough not to see the finished product as a statement about this terrible crime. The vampire’s two main victims are both involved in sex trafficking, one as a buyer and the other as a seller, and the movie makes it very clear that they both deserve to be punished for objectifying and abusing women that way.