Ana Lily Amirpour’s Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is one of those little Indies that you hope people will see because it’s weird and quirky and a fun ride. It might not get a lot of coverage in mainstream press for those same reasons, since most of the Indies that get covered this time of year are the ones that might be in contention for the big year-end awards. And though it stars Kate Hudson (Glass Onion, Almost Famous), it’s a pretty low budget, niche genre flick. But if you can, go see it.
The film begins with Mona (Jun Jong Seo, Burning) in a straight jacket in an asylum. A nurse comes into her cell to cut her toe nails and smacks her in the head just for fun, but little does she know that quiet little Mona is going to get her revenge and make a getaway. It seems Mona has a supernatural gift. She can make people do things with her mind, which she has not taken advantage of until now.
And once she’s outside, somewhere in the wilds of Louisiana, she’s determined not to go back to that hell hole. Fortunately, she meets some kind people out there who give her shoes, and buy her food, and help her evade the police who are seriously looking for her since the asylum describes her as the most dangerous patient ever! She makes her way into New Orleans where she see Bonnie (Hudson), a stripper who is currently getting beat up in the street. And after using her mind-control powers to save her, Bonnie takes her under her wing, planning to use those gifts to her advantage.
And so Mona has someone treating her well for the first time in her life. She bonds with Bonnie’s neglected but wise kid Charlie (Evan Whitten) and helps Bonnie make some extra cash with the use of her gift. But there’s a detective (Craig Robinson, “The Office”) hot on her heals. And it’s pretty much a cat and mouse game until the end.
Not a deep story, but the setting in the underbelly of New Orleans, and the relationships that Mona forms with the kid and drug dealer “Fuzz” (Ed Skrein, If Beale Street Could Talk, Deadpool), who comes into her life at a couple of key moments are sweet, and her evolution from semi-mute crazy in the asylum, to standing on her own two feet and taking care of herself is a fun twist on the coming-of-age story.
While Hudson may be the bigger star and she is great in her role, the film works because of Jeon’s performance, with limited dialogue, depending on her subtle physicality. The soundtrack is perfect and along with the cinematography it sets the seedy tone of the film. I never saw Amirpour’s first feature A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, described as “an Iranian Vampire Western”, because it sounded too much like a horror flick, but now I think I’ll look for it. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this one.
In theaters Sept 30th.