This girl has powers. Don’t screw with her.
We meet a young Asian girl by the name of Mona Lisa Lee (Jeon Jong-seo), who has been committed to an asylum for her psychokinetic powers in “Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon.” This familiar, and yet stylish and ambitious fantasy thriller opens with her sitting inside her room in a jacket and listening to her nurse calling her “stupid” and harassing her. She decides to teach that woman a lesson by controlling her mind and making her stab herself in the leg. And then, she breaks out of the asylum and heads over the New Orleans.
It’s the kind of artisan feature that “X-Men” fans would enjoy, because it doesn’t rely on CGI effects, but rather actors doing the fantasies themselves. Anyone can move their bodies or hit themselves. You don’t computer effects to do those things. That’s what this movie does right.
She comes a variety of characters on along the way. There’s the pimp Fuzz (Ed Skrein), the cop Officer Harold (Craig Robinson), and the stripper Bonnie (Kate Hudson).
Hudson, whose last movie was the awful “Music,” is given a much better role here, as Bonnie is impressed with Mona Lisa’s powers, and decides to take advantage of them. She’s able to steal money from her cheapskate clients, and random strangers at their ATMS.
Bonnie has a little boy named Charlie (Evan Whitten), who starts to bond with Mona Lisa, and is impressed how she defends him from his bullies. The way she handles those egg throwers is miles ahead of how Andrew Garfield handled them in “Under the Silver Lake.” At least they don’t get hurt.
But this little boy knows she’s a person, and criticizes her mother for using her. Well, you know how these movie parents are. They think they’re smarter than their kids. But it’s really the other way around.
It irritates me that the parents think they’re right, but it’s entertaining when their kids prove them wrong. And Whitten is a natural actor for breaking free from the movie kid cliches, and actually being a smart and versatile kid.
The cop comes across the powerful girl before Bonnie did, and gets injured by her. So, she becomes his case, and is in question about what exactly she is. Voodoo, devil worshiper, etc. Robinson doesn’t do his Seth Rogen/”The Office” schtick; he plays a cop who is as persistent to capture the girl, as Tommy Lee Jones was in “The Fugitive.” And I especially enjoy the way he walks with an injured leg to try to pursue her.
And then Fuzz comes back in the picture to help the fugitive Mona Lisa and Charlie by giving them makeovers and driving them out of town. Here comes the movie’s best use of colors. His pad is full of neon colors, like he’s a die hard fan of glow-in-the-dark art. Any room that uses that sort of colors is a trippy one.
“Mona Lis and the Blood Moon” was written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, who also made “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.” That film was her best work, in terms of how she presents the black-and-white images with scary overtones. This one uses colors, and has themes that can be poetic or stylish. And both these movie are about strange girls, who shouldn’t be labeled “girls,” but women who are faces not to be reckoned with. Jong-seo is absolutely entertaining in this particular role, even if her freak-out scene with the words “I’m not going back there” was over the top. She has a lot more to offer.
“Smile” reached Number 1 in its opening box office weekend, and that required cliches and CGI effects to help tell the story. That was a horror film, whereas this one is a fantasy thriller with a spark of its own. Save the CGI effects for the saps.
In Select Theaters and Streaming on VOD