Going in knowing very little about Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, I was shocked and surprised to find a neon-fueled fantastical mix of Stephen King’s Carrie and Safdie Brothers mayhem waiting on the other side! Sometimes going in cold is the best way to experience a great indie that can catch the viewer by surprise. Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, The Bad Batch), Mona Lisa not only provides an exciting vehicle for Jeon Jong-seo (Burning, The Call), but also an avenue for excellent, presently underused actors like Ed Skrein and Kate Hudson to do their thing. I can’t say I had Kate Hudson spouting off about what her “pussy tastes like” on my bingo card, but here we are. Set in New Orleans, this genre-bending, propulsive film is a complete breath of fresh air.
After an opening credits sequence takes us through the swamps of Louisiana, we cut to a cold, clinical asylum. Mona (Jeon) is sitting in a strait jacket; a nurse comes to attend her, and nearly-feral Mona stares deeply into her eyes. She somehow forces the nurse to stab herself in the leg over and over again using only her mind! Next, Mona escapes her confinement—just like that, Mona is on the loose in the streets of New Orleans! Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon’s unique flavor already begins to reveal itself, as Mona comes upon her first encounter that ends with her grabbing a beer.
Once Mona tries to walk out of a convenience store with an armful of snacks, I really started getting hooked. Fuzz (Skrein, Deadpool, Naked Singularity) swoops to Mona’s rescue, paying off her tab as the owner tries to chase her down. Donned in big glasses and a tie-dye shirt, Fuzz has a warm quality about him, and seems genuinely sincere toward Mona. However, it is only when Mona comes across Bourbon Street stripper Bonnie (Hudson, The Skeleton Key, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) that the movie really takes off. Bonnie and Mona instantly connect, as Bonnie observes Mona’s powers firsthand and seems intrigued by them. A group of aggressive customers gives Bonnie only a $2 tip and laughs in her face. What better way to get back at them than to have her newfound friend Mona coerce them into coughing up more cash?
Mona seems to have zero street smarts, or even general knowledge about the outside world. Bonnie has to explain slowly to her about her profession, because Mona cannot even grasp that men would pay money for it. By way of chance, Bonnie offers Mona a place to stay with her and adorable son Charlie (Evan Whitten, The Resident, Mr. Robot). Soon enough, the duo graduates from hassling for tips to forcing men and women alike to fork over fresh money from the ATM. The biggest question the movie seems to pose is about the friendship that forms between Mona and Bonnie—is Bonnie genuinely a nice person towards Mona, or is she only using her as a cash cow? Little Charlie also leaves a mark on Mona by way of his sketch work.
Along the course of the movie (which constantly reminds us about the existence of the blood moon), Mona comes across Officer Harold (Craig Robinson), and makes him shoot himself in the leg. After their encounter, Harold becomes obsessed with Mona to the point that he will do anything in his power to take her down for good. As Mona just tries to get by and survive outside of her captivity, Harold comes at her with the full power of the force. Slowly but surely, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon marches toward an exciting endgame while Mona’s powers seem to stay just as potent as ever.
Personally, I loved Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon from beginning to end. The plot meanders through a colorful cast of characters, but this format prevents the movie from ever becoming boring. Paramount to everything else, the chemistry between Hudson and Jong-Seo is off the charts. Judging by the open ending, I could easily envision some sequel potential if they ever wished to explore this route. Obviously, powers depicted on film can be quite a draw, so sequel-izing things could be a smart move. Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon has all the makings of a cult classic.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon mind-controls its way to an opening in theaters, digital, and On Demand on Friday, September 30th.