Ana Lily Amirpour’s third film after her debut hit A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (it’s probably best to forget her second The Bad Batch) is a very entertaining tale propelled by some nuanced characterisation and a superb soundtrack.
It begins with a padded cell containing straight jacketed 22-year-old American-Korean Mona Li (played by Jeon Jong-seo in a very different guise to her lead in Lee Chang-Dong’s Burning). Mona find herself suddenly conscious and aware after twelve years in a catatonic state. She also discovers she has acquired handy telekinetic powers that she immediately puts to use to violently secure her escape into New Orleans. There she is befriended by chaotic Bourbon Street pole-dancer Bonnie Belle (Kate Hudson). As Bonnie convinces Mona to use her superpowers to hustle cash, the police begin the hunt for the escaped patient.
Difficult to categorise, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is constantly surprising, and is infused with a nightlife hipster aesthetic, good humour and a strong sense of female empowerment, although a brief yet brutal street assault is a single badly judged lapse in tone.
Shot with a full repertory of camera zooms, angles and framing tricks, and lit with the colourful neon alure of a buzzing New Orleans, this is never anything but visually interesting. The film’s style and its excellent electro soundtrack (playlist on Spotify) give the film a momentum that disguises a few meandering plot elements.
At times the film echoes Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers in its celebration of the trashy deep south and Synchronic in its slightly absurd supernatural elements as well as its New Orleans location. There’s even an amusing brief nod to the Crescent City’s voodoo traditions poking fun at a modern-day pseudo-Marie Laveaux character.
Mona Lisa is also an unexpectedly warm-hearted film. Despite being an early victim of Mona’s uncanny abilities, NOPD cop Officer Harold (Craig Robinson) has the escapee’s best interests at heart. The innocent and genuine bond that forms between Mona and Bonnie’s 10-year old son Charlie (Evan Whitten) is touching and humanising, as well as an unlikely friendship with drug dealer Fuzz (Ed Skrein). Kate Hudson is very watchable as the flawed and self-centred Bonnie, and Jeon Jong-seo elicits a surprising amount of sympathy for her dialogue-light character with an outsider vulnerability.
This isn’t a film striving for depth or nuance; but it is stylish and fun. The script and themes are a little unfocussed in places as if, having created an intriguing character in Mona, Amirpour doesn’t quite know what to do with her. But for the duration of the film, that doesn’t really matter.
It will be a difficult film for distributors to place. It’s not schlocky enough for the horror crowd, lacks the depth that the arthouse circuit demands, and is perhaps a bit too weird to be a mainstream success. It’s an outlier, then, but a very enjoyable oddity.Follow @davefilmblog