Macabre rom-com Lisa Frankenstein finds love in a ghoulish place
Since the beginning of film, the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster has been a very popular one to tell, either as a straight-up adaptation or one that takes the basics of the story to make something different. The Oscar-nominated Poor Things is a recent example of how this can be done well. The new Lisa Frankenstein can make no such claim.
It centers on Lisa (Kathryn Newton), a brooding goth-like high schooler whose fascination with death has grown since her mother passed away. She makes regular visits to a “Bachelor’s Cemetery,” feuds with her father’s new wife, Janet (Carla Gugino), and tolerates her eternally peppy step-sister, Taffy (Liza Soberano).
A freak lightning storm brings one of the cemetery’s corpses (Cole Sprouse) back to life, minus a few pieces. Mistaking her death fascination for love, he becomes very protective of Lisa. It’s not long before he – and she – takes things too far, including killing those who would cross her and taking certain parts to make himself whole again.
Directed by Zelda Williams (daughter of Robin) and written by Diablo Cody (Juno, Tully), the film never settles into what it wants to be. At various times it’s a light and fun teenage comedy, a macabre romance between Lisa and the reanimated corpse, and a goofy horror film, but the filmmakers fail to combine those distinct styles into something that works as a whole.
One of the biggest failures of the film is the pacing. The setup of the premise moves a little too briskly, and then it slows to a crawl in scenes involving just Lisa and the creature. Williams ramps things up for a few scenes with funny shock value, but then takes the speed way down again. If the goal is for the film to be a romp, then she needed to liven it up more often.
Those issues are disappointing as it’s easy to see how the film could have turned out better. The idea of using a malfunctioning tanning bed as a way to shock the corpse back to full life is objectively funny. And even though the film is set in the ‘80s seemingly just to fill the soundtrack with ‘80s pop songs, it has a handful of other era references that could have landed more if they were paired with a better story.
Despite the film’s faults, Newton remains a bright young star. She does a great job of committing a role that ultimately doesn’t have a lot going for it. Sprouse does little more than grunt his way through the film, but his performance is still entertaining. Gugino is not allowed to be more than one-note in her performance, but Soberano makes a nice impression in her first big American role.
It’s a shame that Williams couldn’t find her footing with Lisa Frankenstein, as it had the potential to be another interesting take on the Frankenstein story. Even though the memory of this film won’t last very long, its young stars all seem to be ones on the rise.
Lisa Frankenstein opens in theaters on February 9.