Sometimes, the way back to life means rebuilding everything.
The directorial debut of Zelda Williams, Lisa Frankenstein tells the story of Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton), a misunderstood teenager who’s grieving the murder of her mother. After her father remarries, she finds herself thrown into a new family, with a new mother and sister, and a new school where she’s struggling to fit in. But, after a freak storm reinvigorates a handsome corpse from the 17th Century, Lisa has finally found someone who is willing to listen to her heart, even if she has to rebuild some pieces of him along the way.
Written by Diablo Cody, Lisa Frankenstein is the pop culture love child of Beetlejuice and My Fair Lady, if it were set to tune of 1980s jams. Furious and fun, this is the type of pop-infused silliness that is bound to entertain audiences. Ever since the release of Jennifer’s Body, Cody has shown that she is at her best when she infuses her work with the dark edge and, here, Cody completely leans into her the shadows of her soul. As a result, Frankenstein‘s goofy blend of body horror and high school hijinx brings out the best in Cody’s voice, so much so that she and Williams may have potentially created a cult classic in the process.
Admittedly, much of the film’s success lies at the feet of Newton, who absolutely commits to her performance. As the reclusive Lisa, Newton brings an empathy to her that prevents the viewer from judging her for her darker impulses. (After all, Lisa is simply trying to put the pieces of her life back together after her mother‘s death.) Disconnected from herself, Lisa is simply fumbling around in the darkness—even if she has blood on her hands. With a smile on her face but rage in her heart, Newton is clearly having a blast in the role as she looks for love in all the wrong gravesites.
Underneath the murderous mayhem though, Lisa Frankenstein is a film about healing. Still grieving the loss of her mother, everything about her family feels divided. Although her sister means well, her passion for fashion, cheerleading and make up simply don’t fit with Lisa’s worldview. Scratching and clawing just to survive her time in high school, Lisa believes that she’s finally found love in the form of yearbook editor Michael Trent (Henry Eikenberry) yet can’t seem to find the courage to step up to him.
When she finally comes across her ‘Frankenstein’, she is initially terrified. Even so, as she spends more time with the charming corpse, she begins to regain a sense of control for life once again. For her. Having had so much of her life stripped away from her, the opportunity to mentor the creature helps renew a sense of power.
And power is definitely a key role for this film.
As Lisa begins to regain her self-confidence, so too does she gain confidence within her own body. For Lisa, this is an awakening, both for her soul and her sexuality. By making her own monster, she begins to rebuild the pieces of her broken self. Rooted within her grief, there’s a feminine fury within her that has been waiting to be unleashed. Her rebirth may create chaos for those around her, but it also allows her to own her sexual power and gain the strength to heal from within.
Backed by its strong soundtrack and performances, Williams and Cody make sure that this unexpected Romeo and Juliet is a memorable night of carnage and charm. This feels like the type of film that will not rot in the open grave of streaming but could, potentially, grow with affection over time.
Lisa Frankenstein is available in theatres on Friday, February 9th, 2024