★★★★ out of ★★★★
Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
According to director Ana Lily Amirpour, her latest outing, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon “…is New Orleans AF.” While we’re probably not the best judges of whether anything, let alone New Orleans, is AF, but for purposes of this discussion we’ll say it is.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon plays in many concentric sandboxes. It’s horror-lite, dark fantasy, horror comedy, and a nod to lo-fi cinema of the 1980s. A little Jim Jarmusch and little Jonathan Demme. Quirky, quizzical, and emotionally compelling.
The film follows Mona Lisa Lee (Jeon Jong-seo) a young woman perpetually stuck in a Louisiana nuthouse. She’s abused and tortured by nursing staff as she wanders through life in a speechless cloud. Eventually she’s had enough of the abuse and in a Stranger Things-like fit she explodes in a telekinetic rage. It would appear that her darkness has been unleashed by a spooky blood moon.
Upon escaping from the Louisiana nuthouse Mona Lisa Lee is released in to a Jarmuschian world of offbeat weirdos, lowlifes, and kind, but exceptionally marginalized characters. From the incredibly bizarre drug dealer with a southern charm named Fuzz (Ed Skrein), to the rightly obsessed Officer Harold (Craig Robinson), director Amirpour lays on a heavy dose of eccentricities.
It’s not until Mona Lisa Lee is befriended by a down-on-her-luck stripper with a heart of gold, Bonnie (Kate Hudson), that the film really begins to take shape. Bonnie serendipitously discovers Mona Lisa’s telekinetic powers and begins to wield them for mischievous larceny. As the bucks come rolling in, it’s Bonnie’s hyper mature young son Charlie (Evan Whitten) who pieces together her awful scheme(s). Charlie assuredly calls out Bonnie for her selfishness and relentless quest to use others for her own benefit.
At the heart of the film is Charlie’s relationship with Mona Lisa and their quest to escape the oddities and oddballs of New Orleans and strike out on their own. This strange pairing between a teen and pre-teen creates a warm and simple relationship that’s pure and void of adult malfeasance and greed.
The film is replete with incredibly quirky performances and scenes that call back to the likes Repo Man, Something Wild, and Stranger Than Paradise. It operates in the simple and uncluttered world of independent film. It has a story to tell and it delivers in a perfect and honest way. In much the same way that these indy gems of the past pack incredible soundtracks, so does Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon. With tracks by High on Fire and Bottin’s album Horror Disco, this film packs a wonderful audio punch.
Ultimately, you’d be hard pressed to call Mona Lisa and the Blood an honest-to-god horror film. There’s horror-ish elements to be sure. From Mona Lisa’s assault on her nurse to the continued presence of the blood moon, the film’s cinematic elements wander in and out of horror. The film’s mission is not horror, but to create a safe space for the diminished members of society who are simply trying to find their way y’all.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is likely Rated R and is currently at festivals.