Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon: Nothing To Do with Satan, by David Bax

New Orleans’ reputation as a hub for film production is well-established. But there’s a pretty clear dividing line between projects that take more advantage of the tax breaks (like, say, Joseph Kosinski‘s Oblivion) than of the location itself (like, say, Babak Anvari‘s Wounds). Ana Lily Amirpour‘s Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon belongs to the latter category, with the director’s appetite for American junk food culture finding purchase in the city’s calorie-drenched, neon-soaked ambience.

Amirpour doesn’t just embrace the city’s damp seediness, she embellishes it with the use of CG-enhanced shots that look like old-fashioned matte paintings. These larger than life–some might even say garish–elements, like making the moon of the title look as big and textured as it would be on the cover of an old paperback, are of a piece with the film’s slight tilt toward camp.

As is Kate Hudson‘s performance. She’s never been an actor one would describe as a scenery chewer but she tries the approach on for size here, to mixed results. Her bottom-feeding schemer character might not feel out of place in Amirpour’s version of the Crescent City but her inexplicable (and not entirely convincing) Brooklyn-ish accent does.

To be charitable, maybe that’s all a part of Amirpour’s sense of humor. Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is not without its share of laughs. One such sequence sees Craig Robinson‘s police officer–limping from a gunshot to the leg sustained early in the picture–pursuing the title character (Burning‘s Jeon Jong-seo), an escaped psychiatric patient with powers of violent telekinesis, on foot through the streets of New Orleans in what must be the slowest chase scene since The Way of the Gun.

Frustratingly, Amirpour cannot seem to maintain that kind of control over the cadence and rhythm of the piece throughout. Lots of Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon feels pieced together after the fact, as evidenced by the use of ADR dialogue to patch up potential narrative confusion.

What does hold steady is Amirpour’s pessimism about the worthwhileness of other people. At times it’s bold enough to qualify as a statement but, more often, it’s just cynical enough to feel too easy. Like Carrie White before her, Mona Lisa lashes out not just at those who hurt her but at anyone in her way. But Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon lacks the humanity to acknowledge the difference. And the fact that it’s one redeemable person comes in the form of a cute, irascible tyke (Evan Whitten) only adds to the cynicism.

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