‘Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon’ Review: “Witch Queen of New Orleans”
It’s been eight years since Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour blessed horror fans with the brilliant A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Ever since that film, I’m always excited about each of her projects, whether they are on the big screen or television. Her follow-up to the 2014 indie-horror hit was the 2016 cannibal wasteland romance The Bad Batch. Audiences lost patience with the film, and others loathed it because of its meandering nature and abnormal charms. For her third directorial outing, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, Amirpour ups the B-movie aesthetics and grunge that have been present in her two previous features. Unfortunately, her latest work is not up to par with the film that kick-started her career.
This is not to say it doesn’t have its cheap charms and entertaining segments. In Amirpour’s filmography, there is always a focus on world-building. And with Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, this is no exception. How cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski shoots New Orleans’ French Quarter, with its vibrant and neon nightlife, gives vitality to the setting. And the eclectic array of characters we get to meet during the film’s runtime adds to that. There might be more of a focus on the stylish sensibilities of the film’s appearance, almost to a significant fault. Yet, at least, it gives the film breathing room to deliver some fun moments, even if it is nothing more.
The movie follows Mona Lisa Lee (Jeon Jong-seo, known for her lead role in Lee Chang-Dong’s Burning) as she’s trapped in a padded room, with a straightjacket, at an insane asylum. She’s been held there for almost ten years. But with the help of her hypnotic mind control abilities, Mona Lisa manages to escape and go on a journey into a world she doesn’t know much about. Her journey revolves around meeting an eclectic array of people, like Fuzz (Ed Skrein) and Bonnie (Kate Hudson), while escaping the police hunting her down.
Out of all the characters in Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, the one that stands out the most is its setting: the French Quarter of New Orleans. The energetic atmosphere delivers the necessary vitality to embalm the happy-go-lucky characters in the lively neon-lit streets. These characters live in the moment. They have zero preoccupation with what may arrive, whether a confrontation with some dancers or a girl with psychic abilities. And the carefully curated soundtrack, one of Amirpour’s best assets as a filmmaker, helps elevate that sensation. Unfortunately, those two facets aren’t enough to uplift the sluggish free-roam narrative presented. It ends as a disappointing affair by a talented stylistic director and horror connoisseur.
Unlike her previous works, Amirpour isn’t playing with genre tropes to carve out her narrative for her latest movie. She only focuses on the B-movie aesthetics and how they might look instead of making something out of it. It contains some elements present in all of her work – a woman navigating treacherous and unknown worlds. Yet, it fails to amuse because its script feels like a first draft than a fully realized and envisioned project. There are many superficialities and cliches in its characters and story. These may vary from terrible accents and stereotypes to occasional self-awareness, which causes eye rolls. While its setting remains untouched by these faults, it isn’t enough.
In Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, Amirpour presents some stylish B-movie aesthetics and looks. Still, its narrative is too frail and lacks several essential elements, which ends with no thematic resolution. There are fun performances by Hudson (although her accent is terrible) and Jeon. In addition, some scenes showcase the potential of Amirpour’s talents. Nevertheless, one can’t seem enthralled by what’s happening since it’s too shoddy narratively and too self-aware to take it seriously. – Hector Gonzalez
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon opens in select theaters and will be available on-demand on September 30th.