It’s not flawless, but “Lisa Frankenstein” is a risk-taking, fun, women-driven film that marks the highly welcomed return of Diablo Cody.
We’ve all longed for Diablo Cody to return to horror. After all, she penned one of the greatest horror films of the aughts — and that is no exaggeration, at least not to this reviewer who saw Jennifer’s Body in the theatre at the ripe age of fifteen.
I am happy to report that her triumphant return to horror with none other than Zelda Williams (Kappa Kappa Die) at the helm, Lisa Frankenstein, is a madcap adventure into the sheer morbidity of teenage girlhood that is not afraid to get weird and be loftily ambitious.
There are issues, as there are with all movies, but the overall charm of the film is infectious and bolstered by Cody’s signature wit and standout performances from Kathryn Newton and Liza Soberano.
Come for the promise of morbid romance, but stay for insight into family and friendship.
The titular Lisa (Newton) is an outcast. Her mother was a victim of a crazed murderer, and she’s left bearing the brunt of the traumatic experience after her father (Joe Chrest) moves on quickly with Janet (Carla Gugino). Through Janet, Lisa inherits Taffy (Soberano) as her bubbly and popular step-sister.
While Janet is exceedingly cruel to Lisa and her father Dale is negligent at best, Taffy seeks to treat Lisa as family, setting the character apart from the stereotypical popular 80s girl stereotype.
Lisa spends most of her time either in a cemetery fawning over the bust of a handsome young dead man (Cole Sprouse) or working in a sewing shop. Lisa’s oddball life becomes even more odd when a bolt of lightning hits the young man’s grave and resurrects him. Naturally, he seeks out Lisa since she’s a fixture at his grave.
Chaos and funnily dubious science ensue as Lisa attempts to complete the decayed and deteriorated young man.
Lisa Frankenstein is a film that won’t land with a lot of people.
That much is obvious from the marketing, but there is a market for it.
It functions in a way that can only be described as if Re-Animator (1985) and a teen soap opera had a baby. The deliberate result is a frothy and fun celebration of just how messy and complicated being a teen girl is.
You can’t compare this to Jennifer’s Body because — while Cody admits they are set in the same universe — these are two different monsters and are punctuated by Cody’s fast-paced, hysterically funny dialogue and Williams’s fresh directorial eye.
This film revels in an Edward Scissorhands-like romance between Lisa and her potential undead beau and explores the complications and trappings of such a relationship coming to fruition.
However, the most interesting relationship in the film is between Lisa and Taffy.
Williams and Cody create a delicate and emotional relationship shared by two girls who could not be more different.
Taffy’s sweet nature and Lisa’s off-putting complement one another, and the two share some of the movie’s most emotional and rewarding scenes.
Newton and Soberano are infinitely relatable in their characters and their bond.
I would argue that Sprouse and his character take on a more supporting role and a backseat to the girls and their development.
Gugino shines as a wicked stepmother who has convinced herself she is a good person and an intuitive person when she’s actually just a haughty bitch and product of the mean girl to healthcare pipeline. Lisa doesn’t fit her idea of a perfect family and thus should be erased.
The film is hampered by certain story threads and ideas being dropped.
The plot point of Lisa’s mother’s murder and Dale’s eagerness to move on with Janet become footnotes when it seems like they could be trending into more sinister territory.
Did I think either her father or maybe Janet killed Lisa’s mother? I did. That seed was planted by the narrative, and I wonder if a cut of the film or draft of the script explored those possibilities.
There was also a bit of connective tissue missing in places like Spouse’s character unearthing from the grave and hilariously invading Lisa’s house.
Williams shows great potential as a subversive director. While she may be the daughter of Robin Williams, she stands on her own creative merits here. Williams has worked in many different creative roles over the years and has more than proved herself capable of creating a legacy that is both her own and honor’s that of her late father.
Reducing her simply to a Nepo Baby eschews her raw talent, but it, unfortunately, will come up.
I sincerely hope Williams considers sticking with the genre because she has cultivated a creative identity outside of her father, and I think she would be a great asset in the future landscape of horror.
All in all, Lisa Frankenstein has a big heart and a lot of guts.
Lisa Frankenstein is a ballsy film, pun intended (when you watch the movie, you’ll understand). I cherish that we can see movies like this released on a big scale.
Hopefully, we’ll get more of this Diablo Cody horror universe — sooner rather than later. Fingers crossed that Zelda Williams and Karyn Kusama will be tagged in and come along for the ride.