By Ashley Teresa
15th September 2022

There's nothing more disappointing than watching a director knock it out of the park with their first feature, only for their follow up works to never reach those heights again. Ana Lily Amirpour's debut feature, 'A Girl Walks Home at Night', quickly became a cult favourite with horror fans for both its homage to – and twisting of – the then-tired vampire horror subgenre. Unfortunately, her cannibal follow up 'The Bad Batch' and, most recently, her newly-released third feature 'Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon,' indicate that Amirpour might just be a one-hit wonder.

Mona Lisa Lee (Jeon Jong-seo, 'Burning') is seen in the film's opening moments wasting away in a straitjacket, subjected to the harsh fluorescent lights of the institution that we later learn she has spent most of her life in. It is at first unclear why she's there, but as the titular blood moon sets in on this fated evening, Mona Lisa has had enough. The less-than-pleasant nurse who comes in to clip Mona Lisa's nails soon becomes a self-inflicted voodoo doll, a victim of Mona Lisa's telekinetic powers that are the reason for her confinement. A bloody trail of fellow asylum guards is left in Mona Lisa's wake as she escapes to the French Quarter in New Orleans, where a chance meeting with a local exotic dancer named Bonnie (Kate Hudson, 'Music') and her son Charlie (Evan Whitten, 'Words on Bathroom Walls') sees Mona Lisa settle into a new life. However, Mona Lisa's reassimilation into the world proves to be more difficult than anticipated, with a police officer (Craig Robinson, 'Songbird') hot on her trail only complicating her new life further.


It's the kind of fish-out-of-water fairytale that has all the ingredients to make a great film, but 'Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon's blending of indie filmmaking tendencies with more supernatural elements is incredibly jarring, incoherent and ultimately doesn't work. Beyond this, it's hard to really care when characters act erratically for the sake of furthering the plot, turning on a dime when it's convenient, and as a result of the sub-par material, the usually talented cast are putting in sub-par work (even Jeon, whose muted, bubbling power often is the strongest part of her projects, feels underutilised here). Whitten is perhaps the film's weakest link, taking the "annoying child character who acts way too old for their age" schtick to a new level. It is clear that Bonnie isn't a perfect mother, yet the degree to which Charlie berates her for her work and an inability to consistently put food on the table is laughable.

The blending of indie filmmaking tendencies with more supernatural elements is incredibly jarring, incoherent and ultimately doesn't work.

Above all, 'Mona Lisa' is simply a grating experience. Almost every single directorial choice appears poised to rub audiences the wrong way, and not intentionally. Its gloomy, grimy exploration of New Orleans after dark makes it fitting for a midnight B-horror cinema slot, but audiences might be better off sleeping through it instead.

Looking for more Melbourne International Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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