Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour serves up heaped spoonfuls of B-movie thrills in Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, in which a supernatural teen wanders wild in New Orleans. If the film is finally more moony than masterpiece, it does more than enough to keep her fanbase onside. Amirpour’s first film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, was a vampire western; her second, The Bad Batch, a cannibal romance. On the menu this time: superhero gumbo. Grab a bowl and tuck in. Whatever you do, don’t look in the waitress’s eyes.
Jeon Jong-seo stars as Mona Lisa Lee, who exerts a form of hypnotic mind control that can make her enemies slap themselves, stab themselves or put a bullet in their own knees. She’s just busted out of the “Home For Mentally Insane Adolescents” where she’s been held for ten years, and now has to make sense of the world as she goes along. Seat belts are a puzzle and money is a foreign language. In one scene we see Mona gazing in abject mystification at an image of Donald Trump on TV – and this at least suggests that the girl is learning fast.
Amirpour paints New Orleans’s French Quarter as a patchwork of strip-joints and voodoo stores, sticky with spilt liquor and prowled by predatory lunkheads out too long past their bedtime. There’s a full moon over Bourbon Street and Craig Robinson’s dogged, decent cop is in hot pursuit. Except that Mona has now fallen in with pole-dancer Bonnie Belle and her sweet-natured latchkey kid, and has started robbing cash machines to guarantee herself a good welcome. Bonnie is played with great gusto by Kate Hudson, who turns the brassiness factor all the way up to 10. If Bonnie doesn’t actually say, “Hey, I’m walking here”, you can bet it was somewhere in the first draft of the script.
Then again, none of the film’s inhabitants are especially well-rounded; that’s not what it’s about. Amirpour delivers her moody schlock-horror, swings around New Orleans for a spell and bows out with a lovely late flourish at the airport. Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon offers street-food for the senses, served with lashings of hot sauce. It’s hardly nutritious but it tastes fine in the moment, wolfed down on the run.
• Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon screens at the Venice film festival.