Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, 2021.
Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour.
Starring Jeon Jong-seo, Kate Hudson, Ed Skrein, Craig Robinson, Evan Whitten, Tiffany Black, Cory Roberts, Charlie Talbert, Renell Gibbs, and Rosha Washington.
A girl with unusual powers escapes from a mental asylum and tries to make it on her own in New Orleans.
You know what you’re getting when it comes to an Ana Lily Amirpour film, and that’s the guarantee that you’ll have no idea what you’re about to get. Does that make any sense? No? Then welcome to the wonderful fever dream world of Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon. A stylish urban fantasy that puts the odd into odyssey. Because that’s what this is, a journey, with no fixed beginning, a wonderful ambiguity to the end, and a lyrical chaos dancing in-between as we’re transported into this strange alt-verse and the characters who inhabit it.
You have to submit to its stylings quite early on in proceedings, or chances are you’re going to get very frustrated with Amirpour’s free-form narrative style. If you want linear, then you’re better off rewatching Midnight Special, with which this shares quite a few similarities, although it’s operating on a completely different plane of existence.
Very little explanation is offered as to why Mona Lisa Lee (Jeon Jong-seo) is locked up, Sarah Connor style, in a psychiatric institute, and beyond the odd page in a half glimpsed file as a playing-it-straight Craig Robinson pursues the young telekinetic fugitive, that’s about as deep as the mystery gets. It’s very much a surface level chase movie. When things happen, you’re best not questioning events. Just sit back and let the film happen to you.
If you do this then the first thing to wash over you emanating from the New Orleans bayou is the eclectic soundtrack. A mix of Mona Lisa crooning, angry metal, and the kind of dubstep booming from the car driven by Ed Skrein’s tattooed, Phil Foden (look him up) haired gangsta.
He’s the perfect jump off point with which to highlight Amirpour’s predilection for focusing on the outsider, and subverting those preconceptions you might have with such characters. Skrein is absolutely fantastic as the dimestore Vanilla Ice, initially introduced as a threat, he evolves into something so much more likeable and sweet. His equal in terms of impact is Kate Hudson, who hasn’t been this good since Penny Lane. Her pole-dancing single mother Bonnie Belle is a trigger for all kinds of empathy and anger, and it’s testament to Hudson that you’ll feel the weight of this spectrum of emotions.
As our titular Mona Lisa, Jeon Jong-seo is tremendous casting. The actress, who made her name in Chang Dong Lee’s Burning, and was also superb in The Call, grows into the role as she adjusts to her new neon flecked urban underbelly. Her E.T. evolution from catatonic to charismatic is largely thanks to the chemistry she shares with Evan Whitten, who plays Bonnie’s wise-beyond-his-years son. For a lot of the movie she’s a passenger, much like the audience, drifting through this world in a state of confusion, until the two find some common ground, and she begins to find her identity. Although you could argue this happens a little too late, especially considering the frustrating way in which Amirpour ends her New Orleans fairytale.
If you’re disenchanted with the strange goings on, then there’s always the stunning visuals to entertain you. Amirpour’s viewfinder is the kind that would make Nicolas Winding Refn think he needed to check his filters. You could be seduced by that, or be of the opinion that it’s showy superficiality to distract from the uninvolving script. It’s one of the many dichotomies offered up by the film.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is a trip, in every sense of the word, with particular highs hitting in the form of the hypnotic performances from Hudson and Skrein, and while it further cements the unique ambition of Ana Lily Amirpour, it most definitely won’t be for everyone.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt