I Universal Pictures Canada I February 9, 2024 I
Starring: Kathryn Newton, Cole Sprouse, Carla Gugino, Jenna Davis
Directed By: Zelda Williams
Lisa (Kathryn Newton), a misunderstood teenager, falls for a statue at the grave of a young man (Cole Sprouse) who has been dead for many years. When his reanimated corpse comes out of his grave to meet her, they embark on a murderous journey to find love, happiness and a few missing body parts.
REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
RATING 2.5 out of 5
Lisa Frankenstein features an excellent lead performance from Kathryn Newton in the titular role as she effortlessly carries the film from start to finish with her charm and comedic timing, but a muddled screenplay prevents the film from being the smart horror comedy it had the potential to be.
Diablo Cody has written some truly great films over the course of her career, including the Academy Award winning Juno and the cult classic horror comedy Jennifer’s Body. For her latest film, Cody returns to the horror comedy genre with Lisa Frankenstein, teaming up with Zelda Williams in her feature directorial debut. Armed with Kathryn Newton in the lead role of Lisa, one of the most talented actresses of her generation and a veteran of the horror genre with films like Freaky, Paranormal Activity 4, and the upcoming Abigail, Lisa Frankenstein should have been an incredibly fun film given the talent involved. Though sadly, the film struggles to find the necessary tone to make this film either a memorable horror film or a hilarious comedy, leaving the film requiring a jolt of life like Cole Sprouse’s The Creature to bring it back to life.
With a PG-13 rating and the casting of Sprouse, it is clear that this film is targeting teenage girls, and while the film may work for them, it’s not going to work for many other viewers. In terms of horror, while the film has some wonderful gothic horror elements sprinkled throughout, the lack of an R rating prevents the insane story from reaching its chilling potential. Instead, it feels watered down at times to cater towards younger viewers, preventing Cody’s twisted vision from truly taking flight. As a comedy, the film has some decent moments, but the majority of the jokes fail to land and will leave you questioning if the film was funny. In terms of tone, the film both wants to be a shocking and scary horror film and a John Hughes-esque teen romantic comedy, though sadly it fails at being either of them. While it looks like the film is about to take a turn for the better as it enters its third act, a very rushed conclusion unfortunately squanders the bonkers events of the final act and leaves it as lackluster as the first two acts. It’s too bad, as had this film had a R rating, I could have seen Cody and Williams giving audiences the next horror comedy cult classic they were both clearly striving to create.
Stealing the entire film is Newton’s lead performance as Lisa. The film rests entirely on her shoulders, and Newton dazzles from start to finish. Finding the perfect quirky energy to bring to life the titular character, Newton is charming, sweet, and goofy with a darkness in her that plays into the various tones of the film. There are moments where her deadpan comedy is killer, and others where she fully embraces the absurdity of the screenplay full of murder, blood and high school drama, easily allowing her performance to solidify her as one of the best actresses of her generation. It’s too bad that the film doesn’t feature a stronger screenplay, because it could have been an excellent starring vehicle for Newton. Sadly instead, the film fails to fully capitalize on Newton’s talents as a leading lady, which could have salvaged the unfocused screenplay.
There is no doubt talent in the supporting cast, but the film does not give them the screen time they deserve to make an impact on the viewer’s experience with this story. Carla Gugino chews up her scenes as Lisa’s stepmother Janet, bringing a twisted yet delightful wickedness to her small number of scenes. Joel Chrest provides some great comedic moments as Lisa’s father Dale, while Liza Soberano has an infectious onscreen presence that leads to some wonderful moments between her and Newton. Sprouse is fine as The Creature, he captures the spirit of his character with each grunt, moan and absurd action his character makes, but it feels slightly one note at times. Newton and Sprouse have decent romantic chemistry, though with Sprouse’s purposely monotone character, it leaves the heavy lifting to Newton who is more than up to the task as she captures this young girl falling in love for the first time and trying to find her own path in the world.
In terms of the film’s visuals, there is a lot to admire here. The costumes and set design are impressive, capturing that 80s pop style with hints of gothic undertones in great detail, while the often bright colours and pinkish lighting creates a fun vibe to the film. Combined with some great wide shots that capture the few moments of total chaos in the story, especially in the third act with that shot of Newton’s Lisa dramatically running away from an open grave, it’s easy to enter a trance while watching this gorgeously designed film.
Even with a trio of incredible women leading the film both in front of and behind the camera, it’s evident that Lisa Frankenstein suffers from an identity crisis. It’s never truly scary or bloody enough to satisfy the horror crowd, obviously to achieve a PG-13 rating, while the coming of age romantic comedy is never smart enough to alleviate the feeling that this film missed being something truly special. With a truly stellar leading performance from Kathryn Newton, Lisa Frankenstein is able to slightly overcome its narrative issues and inability to decide on the tone it wants to embrace, but it’s clear that the horror comedy that audiences were deserving of from writer Diablo Cody was not the film that ended up being released on the big screen.