Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, 2022.
Written and Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour.
Starring Jeon Jong-seo, Kate Hudson, Ed Skrein, Evan Whitten, Craig Robinson, Tiffany Black, Lauren Bowles, Serene Lee, Cory Roberts, Peggy Gou, Kyler Porche, Michael Carollo, Anthony Reynolds, Jennifer Vo, Altonio Jackson, Donna Duplantier, Rosha Washington, and Armando Leduc.
A girl with unusual powers escapes from a mental asylum and tries to make it on her own in New Orleans.
Par for the course with writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and The Bad Batch), Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon lives and dies off a hypnotic wavelength that’s increasingly bizarre.
Take the opening sequence, which sees unnamed asylum patient Jeon Jong-seo’s Mona Lisa Lee relatively relaxed in her straitjacket, with Pawel Pogorzelski’s photography casually zooming in as she gracefully tries to maneuver herself out of the restraints, all while the trancelike score from Daniele Luppi picks up. Soon after, a nurse (Lauren Bowles) enters the padded cell to clip some toenails, succumbing to hypnosis and aiding Mona Lisa Lee’s escape.
If you’re wondering why Mona Lisa Lee didn’t do this years ago or demand answers regarding her supernatural abilities, then Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is not for you, and that’s also a narrow-sighted engagement with movies as an art form. What matters is that she’s a free fish out of the water, experiencing most of what life has to offer for the first time, with all the good and bad that comes with this seedy, neon-soaked underbelly of New Orleans.
Initial encounters involve a group offering up some shoes and a heavily tattooed hoodlum who goes by the nickname Fuzz (an unrecognizable Ed Skrein) and comes across entitled to share a kiss with Mona Lisa Lee because he bought her some cheese puffs (which appear to be her favorite snack) at the convenience store (one of Ana Lily Amirpour’s strengths as a filmmaker continues to be the random specificity of her characters inside the surreal worlds they inhabit).
None of these characters show signs of discomfort or fear at her wandering around in asylum attire, offering her a change of clothes. And she has the upper hand whenever someone upsets her, thanks to her hypnosis powers. Case in point, Craig Robinson’s police officer Harold (a terrific performance that blends his comedic touch with fright and curiosity) is mind-controlled into shooting himself in the leg when his pursuit brings him face-to-face with Mona Lisa Lee.
The night then takes Mona Lisa Lee to a burger joint where she witnesses Kate Hudson’s erotic dancer Bonnie disrespected and physically assaulted by a woman assuming the scantily clad off-duty patron was eye-flirting with her boyfriend. After coming to the woman’s defense, Mona Lisa Lee is taken to the strip club, where Bonnie realizes she can convince her new friend to brain-melt chauvinistic cheap-ass tippers into emptying their pockets. Screwing over the patriarchy is a noble cause, but from there, Mona Lisa Lee becomes exploited by assisting Bonnie in robbing strangers at ATMs in broad daylight, which only further puts officer Harold on the trail.
Perhaps it’s a commentary on how many Americans will, unfortunately, cast aside their racism when they have something to gain as a friend (not that Bonnie’s character is outwardly racist, but more so that it’s hard to ignore the racial makeup of the dynamic). Bonnie is also a struggling single mom with a 10-year-old son (Evan Whitten) who privately confesses that his mother resents his existence and berates him for being the reason she can’t fully enjoy life and accomplish her dreams. Nevertheless, he warns Mona Lisa Lee that she is being taken advantage of.
Considering these characters, especially Bonnie, operate in moral shades of gray, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon has the pleasant ability to elicit disappointment in some characters one minute and empathy for them a few moments later. Such a thing is naturally baked into a story where gender politics and the patriarchy are on full display (for all the mistakes Bonnie makes, she, and no woman in the world, deserves some of what comes her way). A good chunk of the emotional core is also about Bonnie coming to the realization that she is a cruel mother and could stand to make a few life changes.
However, the longer this situation is stretched out, the more it makes Mona Lisa Lee take a backseat in what is supposed to be her story (doubly frustrating considering Jeon Jong-seo’s commanding screen presence). It’s also unlike Ana Lily Amirpour to settle into such straightforward storytelling, which sucks away from the arrestingly weird vibes in the early going. Her character arc boils down to learning the basics about life and evading authorities.
At a certain point, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon stops having fun with its premise, meanders, and then fizzles out (even the hypnosis aspect fades away). The blunt themes are worthy conversation starters, and the film is still strange enough to recommend, but by the end, all the best elements might as well be sacrificed to the blood moon itself.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com