LIsa Frankenstein Movie Review
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Lisa Frankenstein (2024) is a stitched-together corpse of tropes, half-ideas, and 80s slang that never reaches its aspirations of being a real movie.
It opens with animation that robs unmercifully from Edward Gorey and Tim Burton but is still a promising tease of animated silhouette puppetry in black and white. That’s all of the backstory you’re going to get, and it’s never spoken of again. There was a man enjoyed reading and piano, who fell in love with a woman who left him for a bass player. He was sad, he moped on a park bench, and he died in a storm. Probably. Anyway, he’s dead.
Jump ahead 152 years to 1989 for no real reason, because this movie could have happened in any time period. The end of the 1980s is not significant in any way, and the careful audience may notice that there are a lot of forgotten or ignored story points littering this film.
Lisa (Katheryn Newton) is the unfortunate product of a tragic circumstance, a blended family, and new high school. Uprooted from her former life after the marriage of her father Dale (Joe Chrest) to the absolutely hateful Janet (Carla Gugino), she is shoehorned into the ugly duckling role opposite her popular and favored stepsister, Taffy (Liza Soberano). She has a crush on the cerebral editor of the school’s literary magazine, Trent (Henry Eikenberry) and feels her life is a tragic poem where the best ending is her ultimate ending. Lisa prefers to spend her quiet time in the abandoned Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, among the moss-covered headstones. One night after a house party where everything that could have gone wrong did, a sudden storm brings to her doorstep an unintended wish in the form of the reanimated man (Cole Sprouse) buried at the bottom of her favorite headstone. He is covered in grave dirt, and smells like the rotting corpse he is, but his gentle nature manages to convince Lisa to follow his fashion direction and mince hand in hand into a life of murder and the mutilation of many a corpse.
The Creature, his own name long since worn from his headstone, cannot speak in more than grunts, drags a bum leg, and lives in Lisa’s closet – and no one notices the smell. As Lisa transmogrifies into a cross between Lydia Deetz (Beetlejuice, 1989) and Madonna circa “Like a Virgin” with a splash of Aileen Wuornos for flavor, she all but forgets the undead man who gave her the confidence to be everything he wanted while he became the man she longs to be buried with.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would look like if a Lisa Frank Unicorn barfed in a dark room, this movie is it. Lisa Frankenstein is both garish and stark, with eye-bleeding neon colors one moment, and a hallway devoid of color the next. If this was a deliberate design choice, consistency would have gone a long way towards making that point. Instead, much like the script, and overall direction, the color palette hints of many cooks in the kitchen and all of them were colorblind.
Is Lisa Frankenstein a Cinderella story like Pretty in Pink (1986)? Is it the darkly funny parts of the misremembered plot of Drop Dead Fred (1991)? Would this have been a better gender-flipped remake of Weird Science (1985)? Is there a version of this script that carries any of the plot points to their natural conclusion instead of the poorly sketched exquisite corpse scotch-taped to the screen? At 101 minutes, maybe we can assume there is a lot on the cutting room floor, but there are too many loose ends to be a complete story.
There are obvious nods to Tim Burton and Shirley Jackson, and even, unfortunately, John Hughes, throughout Lisa Frankenstein, and it’s more comedy and teen drama than horror. It’s also a mess of half-baked ideas and abrupt character flips. Kathryn Newton can play strong, nerdy, and terrifying, but under the direction of Zelda Williams, Lisa never becomes more than a series of female stereotypes cribbed from 80s movies no one bothered to watch all the way through. Compounded by what feels like an unfinished script by Diablo Cody, sexual assault is glossed over as well as suicidal ideation in favor of acres of tulle and black crepe as Lisa becomes the traumatized good girl turned angry Goth princess with a closet inexplicably full of men’s clothes to dress her new corpse.
There are some clever lines and a few sight gags that were genuinely funny but for a screenwriter that prides herself on grrlpower, this 80s throwback relies on helpless caricatures and literal penis power to save the day.
Whether it’s Chekov’s earring, the disappearing bloodstain, or the Victorian corpse that is not only unafraid of modern technology, but can also effortlessly drive a car, various callbacks were left unanswered and no one in the movie has peripheral vision.
Bright points in an otherwise dull mimeograph are Liza Soberano who brings a genuine chirpiness and sisterly love to her character. Taffy is popular without being catty, and a cheerleader who’s as smart as her peers. She was grounded and relatable a character as Lisa Frankenstein was going to get, which is a shame for a supporting character.
Perhaps you’ll enjoy silly comedy and a teen that only pretends to be angry so it can wear black and affect a Billy Idol snarl, but for a film that could have explored the darker aspects of sensationalized death with the tongue-in-cheek gallows humor of a reanimated corpse, Lisa Frankenstein misses every single mark.
Lisa Frankenstein (2024) is rated PG-13 for murder and light mutilation, thoughts of suicide, tanning bed accidents, gooey corpses, non-consensual groping, non-consensual drug use, teen drinking, and an over-the-top evil stepmother.