It’s usually a meaningless cliché when people say they were born in the wrong era, but I would make an exception if I heard it from Ana Lily Amirpour. Since her 2014 debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Amirpour has been making the exact kind of high-style, low-effort hangout indies that earned easy festival buzz in the slacker culture days of the 1990s. Two films later, it’s getting frustrating to see her drag that proud burnout energy into the 2020s. It makes sense that her debut was a small-scale genre picture that coasted on laidback cool, but her resources have expanded greatly since then and she’s still making low-effort slacker films with attention-grabbing premises and a snotty “Fuck you” attitude. The only difference is she’s now armed with celebrity stunt-casting & more extravagant locales. Her post-apocalyptic cannibal whatsit The Bad Batch remains the most frustrating waste of her Flashy Debut clout to date, but its follow-up telekinetic fairy tale Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is only a half-step up from that disappointment. Like her previous two films, Mona Lisa leans back & hangs out in a way that makes you wonder why Amirpour is making high-concept genre films when she’d clearly have more fun making no-concept, character-driven comedies. The marquee promises a bubblegum pop version of Scanners or The Fury, but Amirpour is more interested in making a neon-lit Clerks.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon isn’t bad; it’s just a little underwhelming. Imagine if Harmony Korine couldn’t afford to be choosy with his projects and settled for making a straight-to-Shudder Gen-Z update of Carrie for an easy paycheck. The titular Mona Lisa is an escaped mental patient with violent impulses & telekinetic powers. She’s effectively a blank slate, having grown up in a padded cell with nothing but a straitjacket & a prison cot to keep her occupied. Like the DaVinci muse, that internal void invites strangers to project meaning & intent onto her, which says more about their worldview than it does about her own personality (especially the freaked-out cops who want to lock her back up and the scheming hustlers who exploit her powers for cash). This is Horror of the Hassled, as all Mona Lisa really wants is to hang out, eat junk food, and watch trash TV. Her potential for violent mayhem is only unleashed when people get in the way of those totally reasonable goals. Instead of seeking revenge in a cathartic Carrie-on-prom-night showdown with all the jerks who hassle her, she seeks moments of calm at corner stores, laundromats, and TV-lit living room couches. She’s an out-of-time 90s slacker hanging out in a city of desperate, scheming dirtbags who’d all be better off if they just keep their distance and let her vibe.
Although not a great film, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon was a great programming choice for opening this year’s Overlook Film Festival. It’s steeped in plenty N’awlins Y’all flavor to acclimate tourists who traveled here for the fest – starting in the swamps outside the city during Mona Lisa’s initial escape before trudging its way down to Bourbon Street strip clubs, frog ribbits bleeding into grimy DJ beats. It’s also commendable for offering substantial character-actor roles to Kate Hudson (as a Quarter-smart stripper) and Craig Robinson (as the only kind NOPD officer in the history of the department). Surely there’s an audience out there hungering for Amirpour’s high-concept slacker thrillers, real freaks who’d love to see Joel Potrykus’s own no-effort comedies dressed up in dingy pop soundtracks & Rainbow Store fast fashions. I most appreciated Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon as a collection of oddball characters in no rush to do anything in particular. I, too, would love to live a junk-food life unhassled, downing cases of cheap bear in parking lots with metalhead burnouts and chomping my way through well-done hamburgers at the Claiborne Frostop. I just wish Amirpour would move away from the vampires, cannibals, and telekinetic witches of her film’s flashy premises, since she doesn’t seem motivated to do anything exciting with those conceits.