REVIEW: Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon (Venice 2021)
All hell breaks loose in Ana Lily Amirpour’s latest movie, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon. Known for her unique, highly stylised charm, Amirpour mashes together western road flicks with Asian supernatural horror to tell the tale of Mona Lisa Lee – a young Asian girl who escapes from a mental asylum using her extraordinary ability to bend people to her will using only her mind. It’s a balls-to-the-wall crazy setup that gets even more unhinged with the addition of Kate Hudson’s Bonnie Belle – a well-meaning stripper who uses Mona Lisa’s supernatural talent to make a big of extra cash on the side.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The action kicks off with Mona Lisa’s escape from a mental institute – a thrilling and downright creepy action sequence which sees Mona Lisa, played by Burning‘s Jeon Jong-seo, take out bloody vengeance on the abusive nurse who’s been tending to her. Channelling the likes of Carrie and Firestarter, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is all about bloody vengeance on those who misunderstood the titular Mona Lisa. And with a visceral and downright horrific assault on her nurses, Mona Lisa is soon out on the neon-drenched streets of New Orleans – the nearest place on the map to where she was being held captive.
Part of the charm of Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is the relationships young Mona develops along the way. Bonnie Belle and her son Charlie, played by Evan Whitten, are obviously the closest to Mona – taking her in when nobody else would. But Ed Skrein’s delightfully over-the-top hardcore dance fanatic, Fuzz is an absolute delight, too. Glow-in-the-dark paint adorns his apartment walls, his t-shirt – even his coffee mug. Even the way they meet is delightfully weird – Fuzz hits on Mona in the street during a chance encounter and almost instantly declares her his soul mate.
But what could have been a disturbing encounter with a lecherous perve turns out to be actually quite sweet… and Fuzz is eventually instrumental to Mona Lisa’s escape. You see, the authorities are hot on her trail after discovering the bloody aftermath of her escape from the mental institute. One particularly dogged police officer, played by Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Craig Robinson, is determined to round her up. But fuelled by her eagerness to leave the mental institution behind, as well as a thumping soundtrack, Mona isn’t going to go easy.
An intense third act is punctuated by dizzying performances and hilarious one-liners that keep the story from feeling too heavy – despite the fact that it’s a life-or-death bid for freedom. The film tackles some pretty intense subjects too, including abuse, the nature of sex work and even the assault of a beloved character. But Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon doesn’t give you time to dwell on any of it. Instead, Amirpour uses a light touch and suitably weird humour to keep the story moving at breakneck speed. And the film is all the better for it.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is an intense, often hilarious and always bloody weird romp through New Orleans. A genre mash-up as well as a cultural one, we see elements of horror, supernatural thriller, even classic road movies cobbled together to create a sublimely weird yarn.
Packed full of hilarious one-liners and quirky weirdness, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is ridiculously entertaining – an energetic and vibrant take on the girl-with-powers trope. It’s also an incredibly cast movie, with each player bouncing off each other to create this frenetic, frenzied oddity. Ana Lily Amipour is well known for directing highly stylized movies, and Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is no exception. With its quirky tone, over-the-top performances and hilarious dialogue, this movie doesn’t disappoint. And with a vibrant tone that practically screeches in your face, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon simply cannot be ignored.