An escaped mental patient with the power of persuasion makes friends and enemies in seedy New Orleans. Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon has an interesting premise and characters. The problem is that it leaves too many questions unanswered. The ultra-stylized narrative plays out like a violent music video. A rocking soundtrack thunders while a mystery doesn’t unfurl. I was left scratching my head when the credits rolled. There’s pulp entertainment galore but little understanding of the protagonist. Her extraordinary abilities, origin, and personality remain an enigma. The film’s shallow approach leaves you hanging.
A young Asian woman (Jun Jong-seo) in a straightjacket writhes in her padded cell. An abusive nurse (Lauren Burles) unlocks her door. She’s berated for silence. The nurse slaps her harshly before breaking out a nail clipper. Her tone changes to terror as the patient psychically takes control. The nurse stabs herself repeatedly before unlocking the door. Another orderly suffers a similar fate before she escapes into the moonlit swamp.
Bloody and dirty, the woman runs into Fuzz (Ed Skrein) at a convenience store. The slang-talking, tattooed DJ treats her with kindness. He literally gives her the shirt off his back. Officer Harold (Craig Robinson) isn’t as friendly. He recognizes her from an APB about a runaway schizophrenic. Harold also gets a taste of her mind control.
Bonnie Belle (Kate Hudson), a stripper getting burgers, has an altercation at a fast food joint. Her attacker beats herself silly. A stunned Bonnie notices the strange woman mimicking the movements. A few combo meals later reveals a name, Mona Lisa. Bonnie takes her back to the Panty Drop strip club. Mona is mesmerized by Bonnie’s seductive dancing. Later at Bonnie’s house, she introduces her ten-year-old son to their guest. Charlie (Evan Whitten) can’t fathom why his mother brought a freaky lady home. Bonnie realizes she can make a lot of money with Mona Lisa’s puppet master skills.
Bonnie and Charlie in Mona Lisa and The Blood Moon
The film focuses on the relationship between Bonnie and Charlie. She’s a terrible mother and knows it. The diminutive Charlie feels like an anchor around his mother’s neck. He’s almost an afterthought to her selfish urges. Charlie is bullied at school. Mona Lisa understands him from her awful treatment at the psychiatric prison. Charlie soon deduces why Bonnie has adopted her. Bonnie is a natural-born exploiter. This disgusts Charlie and becomes obvious to Mona Lisa. They become kindred spirits.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon goes sideways during the second act. The plot develops without any solid background information. Why didn’t Mona Lisa speak for years? How did she end up in the psych ward? Where and when did her power manifest? We can infer that the “Blood Moon” triggered an awakening. This imagery pervades the film. There needed to be definitive explanations to Mona Lisa’s bizarre situation. I’m not a fan of guessing without apparent artistic intent.
A brutal and realistic female assault takes place during the climax. It’s repulsive and difficult to watch. Director/writer Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Bad Batch) eschews nudity but shows a graphic beating without compunction. It’s relevant to the plot but didn’t need to be seen in such horrific detail. Normalizing the extreme desensitizes the audience. The attack overtakes the film and adds to its faults.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is a production of Rocket Science, Le Grisbi Productions, 141 Entertainment, Black Bicycle Entertainment, and Wiip. It will have a VOD and theatrical release on September 30th from Saban Films.