The Movie Waffler New Release Review [VOD] - MONA LISA AND THE BLOOD MOON | The Movie Waffler


Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon review
A stripper exploits a young woman's supernatural powers.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ana Lily Amirpour

Starring: Jun Jong-Seo, Kate Hudson, Ed Skrein, Evan Whitten, Craig Robinson

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon poster

Sometimes originality is over-rated. Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour's first two films – A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and The Bad Batch – felt like unique creations, but I didn't particularly care for either of them. Her third feature, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, is as derivative a movie as you could imagine, but I had fun with it.

In interviews, Amirpour, who was born in Britain to an Iranian family before moving to the US as a child, has spoken about how she fell in love with American pop culture. And boy does it show in this slobberingly affectionate homage to Hollywood movies of the '80s and '90s.

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon review

One of the staple storylines of that era was the fish out of water. Whether it was a cop from the mean streets of Detroit adjusting to life in Beverly Hills or any number of aliens, robots and time travelers figuring out what a microwave is for, Hollywood movies mined this premise for all it was worth.

Amirpour's fish out of water is Mona Lisa Lee (Jeon Jong-seo), a young Korean woman being held in a psychiatric institute just outside New Orleans. It's unclear how she ended up there, but it quickly becomes apparent why she's being kept away from the public. Mona Lisa possesses the ability to perform a sort of hypnosis on others, controlling their limbs as though she were playing a Nintendo Wii. After displaying this ability on the staff at the institute, she strolls out, still clad in a straitjacket. Amirpour quickly introduces one of the classic '80s clichés – the scene where the protagonist encounters a bunch of punks and ends up stealing their clothes – but subverts it by having the punks turn out to be a thoroughly decent lot who give Mona Lisa a pair of shoes and point her in the direction of the city.

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon review

It's there that she is discovered by tough talking stripper Bonnie (Kate Hudson). Realising Mona Lisa's gift could make her a lot of money, she takes her under her wing, using the girl's powers to con strip club customers into handing over their wallets, along with those of unsuspecting ATM users. On Mona Lisa's tail is a cop, Officer Harold (Craig Robinson), who fell victim to Mona Lisa's powers and shot himself in the leg. With his colleagues assuming he was simply being clumsy, making him the laughing stock of his precinct, he's determined to hunt down Mona Lisa. Add in Bonnie's young son Charlie (Evan Whitten), who begins to bond with Mona Lisa in a way he never quite did with his neglectful mother.

The central premise of an innocent with superpowers being exploited for criminal gain owes a lot to Kornel Mundruczo's Hungarian superhero riff Jupiter's Moon. The relationship between the heavy metal loving Charlie and Mona Lisa is straight out of Terminator 2. There are moments that feel like they've been borrowed from countless other films. Yet it's all done with such an affection that it plays like a genuine creation of Amirpour rather than a cynical attempt to ride the current wave of nostalgia for past decades. Another key influence would seem to be the films of Sean Baker. Watching Bonnie and Mona Lisa move through the New Orleans night hustling and bustling, it's hard not to think of the characters of Baker's Tangerine. A sleazy yet ultimately avuncular drug dealer played by Ed Skrein could easily slot into one of Baker's explorations of America's underclass.

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon review

But Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon has an energy of its own. The soundtrack often feels misjudged, but it sounds like nothing else, as though Amirpour was determined to include some needle drops whether they fitted or not. The camera often moves in unexpected ways, floating in one direction when it seems the opposite would have made more logical sense, as though the camera is evoking Mona Lisa's sense of trying to figure out her surrounds. The filmmaking is deceptively smart and innovative despite the derivative nature of the narrative.

Amirpour's first two films felt like pretentious takes on genre filmmaking, but there's nothing pretentious about Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon. This is a filmmaker having fun – and nobody is having more fun than Hudson with her Jennifer Lopez impersonation – yet ironically it feels like Amirpour's most mature offering.

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon
 is on UK/ROI VOD now and in US cinemas/VOD from September 30th.

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