Anna Lily Amirpour brings a new startling vision in horror, shrugging off the slow melodic pacing of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night in favour of the punk thrills of a New Orleans set thriller. Mona Lisa (Jeon Jong-seo) escapes from a mental health facility with nothing but a straight-jacket and powerful psychic abilities that allow her to manipulate the people around her to do her will. Pursued by Officer Harold (Craig Robinson in an unusually sombre performance), Mona finds herself in the custody of a self-obsessed stripper Bonnie (Kate Hudson) and her distressed son Charlie (Evan Whitten) where she must decide who she really wants to be.
The premise isn’t the most original. Indeed, there’s quite a bit in common with the Netflix show Stranger Things. However, the style of the film is entirely unique. The colourful aesthetic, dark humour and cine-literate subversions are entirely Amirpour’s style. Sometimes fast paced and zany like a Neveldine-Taylor film, other times sad and detached like Julia Ducournau’s latest striking masterpiece, but always uniquely Amirpour. It’s a cheesy premise but the focus is very much on individuality and freedom.
Mona finds herself surrounded by potential role models; possible avenues by which she may use her power. Bonnie represents ego. She’s self-serving and indifferent to the suffering of others. Her instinct is to use Mona’s powers to feed off of other vulnerable people like herself, and her horrible clientele of course. She participates in a world she percieves as dog-eat-dog, where compassion is a weakness. She also meets Ed Skrein’s laid-back drug dealer, Fuzz, who wants for nothing and suggests a more passive lifestyle in which Mona may even abandon her powers and live sincerely though aimlessly. Between these extremes, Mona finds friendship with Charlie, who is also unsure of his place in the world.
Amirpour proves, once again, to be the master of black comedy and inventive horror. Her film may not be as groundbreaking as her previous work, but it’s a mesmerising and entertaining film that seems destined for cult status. Amirpour has suggested a sequel may be made, picking up with Mona Lisa in her continued journey of self discovery. With the fairly-standard tropes of an origin story out of the way, it would be a great pleasure to catch up with Mona Lisa on the other side of the Blood Moon.