To the pulsing beat of an EDM soundtrack, a young woman desperate for agency and connection makes her way through the chaotic streets of New Orleans in Ana Lily Amirpour’s compelling Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon. The fact that she’s just escaped from the asylum where she’s been kept under lock and key for years due to her ability to control others with her mind means that she should play it safe — but it turns out that safe is not her strong suit.
Mona Lisa (Jeon Jong-seo) begins the movie wrapped in a straitjacket in a padded cell, but she quickly (and bloodily) escapes, fleeing the institution that wants to keep her locked away from the world. With a quick temper and no real-world experience, she seems primed to run into trouble, but she meets three people who affect that trajectory. Easygoing DJ/drug dealer Fuzz (Ed Skrein) literally gives her the shirt off of his back (and cooks a mean egg), and exotic dancer Bonnie (Kate Hudson) and her son, Charlie (Evan Whitten), take her in to keep her off the streets.
Of course, in Bonnie’s case, the underlying motivation to help Mona Lisa is to take advantage of her special powers; turns out you can shake down a lot of customers for cash when you have a friend who can make them open their wallets. But Mona Lisa’s connection to older-than-his-years Charlie is genuine, and she’s glad to have a family (of sorts) for the first time. Alas, Officer Harold (Craig Robinson) — whom Mona Lisa injured and humiliated with her abilities — is in pursuit, and he’s not about to give up.
New Orleans provides a steamy, turbulent backdrop for the events in Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, the setting working well with the cinematography, soundtrack, and set design to create a stylishly sleazy world of strip clubs, dark alleyways, and convenience stores. The cast plays the movie’s group of memorable misfits convincingly, and it’s impossible not to root for Mona Lisa — so long oppressed and feared by others — to finally take her destiny into her own hands. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Marilyn Ferdinand The moon is a symbol of the feminine, so it should come as no surprise that British director Ana Lily Amirpour has chosen it as a constant presence in her latest film, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, about a young woman freeing herself to be her authentic self. Mona Lisa Lee (Jeon Jong-seo) is a Korean orphan brought to the United States whose power to bend people to her will landed her for a long stretch in a padded cell. She escapes and makes her way to New Orleans, where she learns the ways of the world. Amirpour’s film of female empowerment may dabble in the supernatural, but the director’s interest is in the ordinary lives of people living on the margins. They make mistakes and take advantage when they can, but mainly they are benevolent and accepting. It is great to see Kate Hudson back in action as an exotic dancer who seems like little more than a user, but is revealed to have a warm, maternal heart. Jeon’s Mona behaves a bit like a space alien, but turning the cliché on its head, she doesn’t really want to hurt anyone. Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is a surprisingly gentle film that upends our expectations of where a film in this type of setting should go. In the process, it honors the humanity of people polite society disdains.
Leslie Combemale In astrology and spiritual circles, the blood moon is a time of chaos and change. One assumes writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour was aware of that, as her films are always laden with symbolism, and certainly her lead character brings chaos, change, and more to the world around her in this film. Jean Jong-Seo, most recently seen in Money Heist, has the magnetism to portray the mysterious, enigmatic Mona Lisa. She is alternately curious, vulnerable, and terrifying, as Amirpour bathes her in sharp colors and plays with light and shadow, all against a pulsing electronic soundtrack. Watching her becomes as much a compulsion as that driving Officer Harold (Craig Robinson), in an environment where no one is clearly good or evil, and Amirpour bats audience expectation around like a freshly-chewed and stringy cat toy.
Jennifer Merin Ana Lily Amirpour’s thrilling feature film, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, is set in trippy New Orleans. The film’s opening sequence sees a young woman — the titular Mona Lisa Lee (Jeon Jong-seo) — using her extraordinary power of psychokinesis to escape from the padded cell where she’s been warehoused since her early childhood. The film requires your suspension of disbelief. Go along for the ride and be thoroughly entertained by Mona Lisa’s story which delivers all the tantalizing empathy-laced twists, quirks and oddities we’ve come to expect from Ana Lily Amirpour, and for which we adore her work. Stunning cinematography, sound design, costumes and set decor conspire to make Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon another singularly impressive work of cinematic art from the brilliant Ana Lily Amirpour. Read full review.
Nell Minow: Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is a neon-tinged adventure that skillfully blends the genres of horror, buddy road trip, fairy tale, and paranormal. Understated performances by Craig Robinson and Ed Skrien provide grounding for the more outlandish settings. Ana Lily Amirpour’s distinctive, confident, singular vision makes her an exceptionally fascinating director.
Sherin Nicole If you asked for my Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon elevator pitch, I’d call it a throwback to a 1980s fever dream. One that may or may not have been induced by magic mushrooms (depending on the level of police involvement). In the case of this film, the involvement is high. Why are movie-cops so pesky? It’s part of those 80s sensibilities I mentioned. MLBM begins in the guise of a grindhouse but soon wanders into cult territory. Yet, the bond between a young woman and a child is the strongest tie to the storytelling of four decades past. The young woman, Mona Lisa (Jeon Jong-seo), has extrasensory powers and a long history of being institutionalized. The boy, Charlie (Evan Whitten) is no less isolated. Their otherness and up-until-now impotent rage are the crux of their connection. It is also the impetus for their adventure, but the antagonist isn’t a person, it is the crime of patriarchal structures. Structures that demand conformity or else. That is where Ana Lily Amirpour’s film speaks loudest, in pointing out how far some men will go for revenge after a woman gets the upper hand.
Pam Grady: An escaped mental patient with telekinetic powers becomes a wanted woman in more ways than one in this New Orleans-set drama. Using her gift, Mona Lisa Lee (Jeon Jong-seo) breaks out of a locked ward and heads to the seedier side of The Big Easy, where hard-bitten stripper Bonnie (Kate Hudson) befriends her once she see what Mona Lisa can do. Meanwhile, Officer Harold (Craig Robinson), makes it his mission to catch the fugitive when he becomes one of her victims. This is a film in which a character is kicked and beaten to a bloody pulp but still manages to keep all of her acrylic nails and her teeth: Verisimilitude is not one of its virtues. Neither are strong characters. Where Ana Lily Amirpour’s (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) sophomore feature excels is in creating an atmosphere etched so sharply it’s possible to sit in an air-conditioned room and feel Nola’s humidity.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour’ Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is a trippy, genre-bending film full of stylized cinematography, a standout cast and a storyline that is difficult to summarize. It’s best to just see the film cold and enjoy the improbable adventure of a mysterious young Mona Lisa (Jeon Jon-seo), an institution escapee who’s telekinetic and ends up on a wild ride through New Orleans.
Susan Wloszczyna: Filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour delivers a tasty walk on the wild side with her fourth feature, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon. The film opens in a dark boggy terrain with the sounds of croaking frogs and other creatures as the song made famous by Nat King Cole is heard in the background. Read full review.
Cate Marquis Ana Lily Amirpour’s mystical Nawlins tale Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon starts with that old “Mona Lisa” song and a young Asian woman (Jun Jong Seo) in a straight jacket, locked in a stark cell in a prison mental hospital. The young inmate remains silent as a female aide enters her cell and remains impassive as the aide verbally abuses her, and then begins clipping the straight-jacketed woman’s dirty toenails. Maybe it is the slip of the clippers that nips her or maybe it is the full moon hanging overhead, but something snaps and the passive patient looks up and into the aide’s eyes. Suddenly the aide moves to her command, and the inmate makes her escape into the half-clouded night, leaving a bloody trail, and headed for nearby New Orleans. But what starts out like a classically-cheesy, drive-in movie horror film transforms into something more interesting, a clever, darkly comic adventure, as the escaped Mona Lisa Lee encounters a tattooed would-be DJ named Fuzz (Ed Skrein), an overworked cop named Harold (Craig Robinson), and an exotic dancer named Bonnie (Kate Hudson) and her son Charlie (Evan Whitten), in this delightfully atmospheric NOLA romp.
Title: Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Release Date: September 30, 2022
Running Time: 106 minutes
Screenwriter: Ana Lily Amirpour
Distribution Company: Saban Films
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin