Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | September 30th, 2022
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2021) 1½ out of 4 stars.
Given how much I adored writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour’s 2014 debut feature, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, it is with great regret that I report a decidedly less enthusiastic response to her third effort (I missed her 2016 The Bad Batch). Whether it’s the often-mismanaged performances, a restless camera to no purpose, or a script that adds up to less than the sum of its various episodes, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon offers much vision but little that is visionary. There is still enough there to somewhat keep one watching, but it’s all too frequently a chore.
Jeon Jong-seo (Burning) stars as Mona Lisa Lee, a Korean woman who has been incarcerated in an institution for the criminally insane since she was 12 (and she is now about 22). As the film begins, we watch as a nurse comes to administer medicine, trim nails, and more, all the while doling out verbal abuse. For some reason, this time Mona Lisa isn’t ready to take it. Using what we quickly realize are psychokinetic powers, she causes the nurse to stab herself repeatedly, then to unlock her chains. On her way out the door, she knocks out the desk attendant using the same trick. She also grabs his bag of cheese puffs. She’s not only fed up, but ravenous.
Once out on the street, she meets a varied cast of characters, including Fuzz (Ed Skrein, Alita: Battle Angel), a seeming drug dealer who claims to be a DJ, from whom she steals a shirt to replace her straightjacket. She also disables a police officer, Harold (Craig Robinson, Morris from America), before deciding to interfere in a parking lot battle between Bonnie (Kate Hudson, Music)—a stripper eating a meal in a diner—and another woman who didn’t like how Bonnie and her boyfriend were exchanging looks. Using her powers, Mona Lisa saves Bonnie from a major beating. After that, the two become fast friends.
Bonnie is quite the hustler, though, and soon is using Mona Lisa to earn some fast cash. This doesn’t stop her houseguest from bonding with Charlie (Evan Whitten, Dino Dana: The Movie), Bonnie’s son. What starts out as one kind of story morphs into another as allegiances blur and motivations corrupt. Karma has a way of rearing its ugly head; beware the retribution.
As a meditation on outcasts and their misadventures among the so-called normies of the world, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon has a lot going for it. The problem is that the narrative framework is simultaneously a mess and a retread of similar fish-out-of-water tales. It doesn’t help that each actor appears to believe they are in a different movie the one from the other, nor that Amirpour blasts far too many musical cues scene to scene, creating a jarring cacophony of hipster beats.
There is a violent moment, late in the story, that also comes as a bit of a shock, even though we have earlier seen blood, and the film has by no means earned the right to be so brutal. The constant use of a wide-angle lens, though initially interesting, adds nothing of note to the aesthetics, either. Nevertheless, Amirpour’s oddball sensibility delivers occasional sequences that fascinate, even as the rest proves tiresome. I’d still recommend rewatching A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, instead.