Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, a girl with unusual powers escapes from a mental asylum and tries to make it on her own in New Orleans. Starring: Jeon Jong-seo, Kate Hudson, Evan Whitten, Ed Skrein and Craig Robinson.
Ana Lily Amirpour is an unpredictable filmmaker, going from the unnervingly understated and chilling A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night to the brash, unforgiving The Bad Batch, and now another complete change of tone and style in Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon. Whether or not that’s an enjoyable thing is going to hugely differ per viewer but Amirpour still hasn’t managed to capture the magic of her debut feature. Aesthetically, it has a great colour palette and there’s a comic book style quality to the way that it moves. It leans into the fantasy elements but is rooted in drama, feeling slightly reminiscent of Ryan Gosling’s Lost River. It’s our reality but slightly exaggerated and for the most part it moves at a good pace but the stronger initial energy starts to dwindle as time goes on, never quite able to kick things into high gear. Additionally, there’s a great deal of horror potential to this story that goes unanswered, which could have really helped to intensify things.
Amirpour’s writing follows a similar path, there is something there but it can’t build up enough momentum or intrigue to create something more memorable. It does make one unexpected turn in actually acknowledging the murky issue of using Mona Lisa’s (Jeon Jong-seo) powers for Bonnie’s (Kate Hudson) gain. It’s a nice moment that shows progression but outside of that, there isn’t much to be surprised by along the way. It is a decent story but it doesn’t strike enough original chords to leave a lasting impression. Ultimately it presents a fairly unrewarding experience but is still worthy of an easy evening watch.
The cast is another element that presents issues for Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon. Firstly, Jeon Jong-seo is fantastic and brilliantly captures the violence and naivety to Mona Lisa. She easily instils the quintessential sheltered persona, having so little experience of the real world and having existed in such a terrifyingly restrictive space. She’s enigmatic and compelling, realistically this story simply doesn’t do her justice, she had a lot more to offer. Secondly, Evan Whitten is pretty much the only other good piece of casting in this film, he’s smart and emotionally mature, resourceful and individual but also still has the youthful naivety and vulnerability of his tender age. You can’t really go wrong with Craig Robinson, he always brings a superb amount of personality but still he doesn’t quite fit here. Then you have Kate Hudson who is often overestimated and doesn’t really have the presence or swagger to pull off a role like this. Lastly, there’s Ed Skrein who cannot make this performance work in the slightest, granted he can pull of maniacal or relentless but this type of tough and slick charmer just doesn’t click for him. Although there is one other exception to the difficulties in casting which is Cory Roberts, who gives us a very brief but fun role.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon starts out with a good idea and has some good pieces but can’t bring it all together. The casting feels like they’re slightly forcing known entities in, when the real gems come in the form of Jeon Jong-seo and Evan Whitten, who give the film heart and personality. Both the writing and direction have ups and downs, there’s a good energy to them and they try to create something original, which they have inklings of but they’re never fully realised.