It’s on the night of a full blood moon that we are introduced to 22 year old Mona Lisa (Jeon Jong-Seo) who uses her supernatural ability to escape from the high security mental asylum where she has lived for a decade.
Lost and alone, Mona Lisa finds herself on the streets of the French Quarter of New Orleans and is taken under the wing of sly and streetwise stripper Bonnie Belle (Kate Hudson), who quickly sees the potential in her new protégée’s telekinesis to take advantage of some of the strip club’s sleazier customers.
In her third feature (following vampire western A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and the cannibal romance The Bad Batch), Ana Lily Amirpour takes us on a subversive journey through New Orleans in this part sci-fi-thriller, part neon fantasy.
The performances are stellar. Jeon perfectly portrays both Mona Lisa’s naïvete, locked away from the world for so long, and the quiet cunning which develops as she hones in on her power. Hudson is another revelation - at first her presence seems almost incongruous: the deceitful Bonnie Belle is a far cry from her usual roles. Yet within minutes of Bonnie’s first appearance it is clear that this is one of Hudson’s strongest performances of late.
There are two unexpected standouts too, the first from Evan Whitten, playing Bonnie Belle’s intelligent 12 year old son, Charlie; the other from a nearly unrecognisable Ed Skrein as Fuzz, the psychedelic DJ who takes an immediate liking to Mona Lisa. Skrein’s impressive portrayal takes Fuzz from a somewhat unlikeable character, in his loud fluorescent clothing and tacky sunglasses, to a place of sympathy over the course of the film.
While some will shy away from the hyper-saturated sci-fi drenched in neon, it adds a unique twist to an otherwise simple idea. It is evident that Amirpour isn’t aiming too much below the surface; the script is simple but entertaining and light-heartedly mocks the 21st century rave subculture. The film’s strength lies in its ability to go on an exciting and unexpected journey and maintain a consistent level of wit throughout. Even when exploring more serious themes such as maternal relationships, Amirpour takes a playful approach, provoking laughter at even the most heightened moments.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is a wonderfully strange take on New Orleans horror. Taking you on an illusory journey through the multitude of characters of the French Quarter, this manic escapade leaves you feeling stunned yet satisfied.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon was at the BFI London Film Festival 2021