The film is described as being set in "the Iranian ghost-town Bad City" and depicts the doings of "a lonesome vampire".
A young, hardworking Iranian man named Arash lives with and takes care of his heroin-addicted father, Hossein. They are harassed by a cruel, drug-dealer pimp named Saeed, who seizes the young man's prized car in exchange for money the father owes him. In a crime of opportunity, Arash steals a pair of diamond earrings from the wealthy young woman he works for, Shaydah.
The pimp comes across a strange young woman in a chador at night. She seduces the pimp to take her back to his apartment. While there, she grows long fangs and first bites off his finger, then goes for his neck, killing him. As she leaves, she passes by Arash, who has come to offer the earrings for his car. He finds Saeed dead, and takes back his car keys along with a suitcase of drugs and cash. Arash decides to sell the drugs, allowing him to quit his job working for Shaydah. Later, he goes to a costume party at a night club dressed up as Dracula, where he is seduced by Shaydah into taking one of the ecstasy pills he is selling. Under the influence, he is rejected by her, and ends up lost at night on the street.
The woman with the chador spends her time listening to music alone in her apartment, or bedeviling pedestrians at night, until she comes across the lost Arash. He shows vulnerability and compassion, and she takes him to her home, where they listen to music, and she resists his exposed neck. They meet the next night, and she says that he does not know the terrible things she has done. He is unfazed, gives her the earrings and – at her request – pierces her ears with a safety pin, but she eventually leaves.
Atti, a prostitute who worked for the pimp, is followed at night by the woman in the chador, and they retreat to the prostitute's apartment. The woman in the chador gives Atti the payment the pimp owed her. They have a conversation during which the woman in the chador realizes that Atti no longer remembers what it is to desire. She leaves.
Suffering from heroin withdrawal, Hossein has an episode where he believes that Arash's cat is his dead wife. Infuriated by his father, Arash gives him drugs and money and throws him out, telling him to take the cat with him. Hossein goes to Atti and forces her to take heroin with him. They are found by the woman with the chador, who kills Hossein. After Atti helps her dispose of Hossein's body, she tells her to take the cat and leave.
The following morning, Arash discovers Hossein's body. Distressed, he runs to the apartment of the woman in the chador and begs her to run away with him. As she is gathering up her things, the cat appears and Arash realizes that she had something to do with his father's death. Arash and the woman drive off together but he pulls off to the side of the road, angry and undecided about what to do. He eventually gets back in the car and the two continue their trip onwards.Sheila Vand as The Girl
Arash Marandi as Arash
Marshall Manesh as Hossein
Dominic Rains as Saeed
Mozhan Marnò as Atti
Rome Shadanloo as Shaydah
Masuka as the cat
An early short film with the same title from Amirpour screened at festivals and won Best Short Film at the Noor Iranian Film Festival.
An Indiegogo campaign was launched in July 2012 to fund the feature-length version of the film. On August 27, 2012, the campaign's goal of $55,000 was surpassed. The project ended up with a total sum of $56,903 raised by 290 backers.
The film was shot in the town of Taft in Kern County in southern California.
The film received positive reviews from critics, holding a 95% "Certified Fresh" approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 111 reviews.
Guy Lodge of Variety said in his review that "Ana Lily Amirpour's auspicious debut feature is a sly, slinky vampire romance set in an imaginary Iranian underworld". Andrew O'Hehir of Salon called the film "the year's biggest discovery" and praised its feminist themes. Boyd van Hoeij, in his review for The Hollywood Reporter, praised the movie, saying "this moody and gorgeous film is finally more about atmosphere and emotions than narrative – and none the worse for it". Drew Taylor of Indiewire graded the film A− and said that it gives "the impression that you're witnessing something iconic and important unfold before you".
The film was adapted into a graphic novel published by Radco in 2014.