Review by Sean Boelman
Ana Lily Amirpour is perhaps the queen of the “just vibes” genre of filmmaking in that her movies are characteristically sprawling but create an atmosphere that is completely transfixing. Her third feature, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, is fantastic: a blend of Firestarter and exploitation films, with a splash of ‘80s kids movies — a lot, but in the best way possible.
The movie follows a young woman with psychokinetic powers who escapes from an insane asylum and sets out on a journey through the city of New Orleans. There’s definitely a plot here, but this comes second to the vibes, as the film is more about the series of interactions she has with these bizarre characters around the Big Easy.
And bizarre they are — the characters in this movie are certainly larger-than-life, and they are brought to the screen by some extraordinary performances. Kate Hudson plays a unique spin on the “stripper with a heart of gold” archetype, giving one of the best turns she has ever given in her career.
Another highlight is Ed Skrein who plays an extremely over-the-top drug dealer, but Skrein brings such an unhinged, off-the-wall quality to the character that you can’t help but love him. Craig Robinson plays a much less goofy role than usual as the well-meaning cop who is trying to help the only way he knows how, even if he doesn’t succeed.
Still, the film comes down mostly to Jeon Jong-soo and Evan Whitten. Jeon has a role that is predominantly soft-spoken for much of the movie, but even so, she brings a very compelling quality to the role. Whitten seems to be, or at least should be the breakout of the year, having a natural comedic timing.
There are a lot of different ways that one could take the film, and the inclusion of one montage of news footage in the middle of the movie only confuses things. But having the protagonist as this observational force drifting through the world is something that Amirpour has excelled at in her films, and this is no exception.
Amirpour does some really fascinating things with the look of the movie. Every time the protagonist uses her power, there is a dolly zoom, and while it feels gimmicky at first, you begin to realize how well it plays into the whole mood. And she uses the very unique aura of New Orleans to her advantage in creating this feel.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is a wonderful film if you know exactly what you are getting into. Ana Lily Amirpour’s previous two movies made it clear that she is a director to watch, and this solidifies that she is one of the best voices working in genre cinema today.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon screened at the 2022 Overlook Film Festival, which ran June 2-5.