Lisa Frankenstein Review: A Perfectly Spooky Rom Com
Disclaimer: This Lisa Frankenstein review contains minor plot spoilers.
This weekend, the world is being treated to a new rom com that is equally in season for Valentine’s Day and Halloween.
Zelda Williams makes her feature film directorial debut with horror romantic comedy Lisa Frankenstein. The film is written by Diablo Cody, who is best known for her Oscar-winning screenplay for Juno and her cult classic Jennifer’s Body.
Meet Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton), a teenage girl with a morbid fascination with an abandoned Victorian era cemetery deep in the woods. In tending to a grave she deems her favourite, she begins a one-sided love affair with a statue of one of the deceased buried there. One wish and some mysterious green lightning later, and Lisa comes face-to-face with her undead suitor, The Creature (Cole Sprouse).
This is as much a coming-of-rage story as it is a love story. Lisa is grappling with the trauma of losing her mother to a violent death. Ever since then, her voice has been stifled by both the magnitude of her emotions and by people who don’t understand her. It isn’t until The Creature comes back from the dead that she begins to find her voice. Their dynamic is made all the more humorous by the fact that The Creature can’t speak.
Kathryn Newton perfectly delivers the quippy dialogue to be expected in a Diablo Cody script. Conversely, Cole Sprouse gives a completely transformative performance in which he cannot verbally communicate with Lisa beyond anything but grunts and groans. His physicality is equally captivating, as he must stumble around with undead hindrances to his mobility.
The love story of Lisa and The Creature is one that sneaks up on the audience. Their interactions don’t seem romantic at first. Little by little, the yearning looks from The Creature start to accumulate, as do the many conversations in which Lisa is able to open up to him in a way that no one else makes her feel safe or comfortable enough to do. Ultimately, it’s a perfectly executed slow burn that somehow fits into a zippy runtime of less than two hours.
Aesthetically, Lisa Frankenstein is exquisite to look at. So much care and consideration has been put into every detail of the film’s visual design. There is much to take in, including Lisa’s many iconic looks (hair, make-up, and clothing), the set decoration of Lisa’s room, the black and white dream sequence, and the animation sprinkled in.
Zelda Williams is so precise about her horror and general filmmaking inspirations. Classic horror films are visible in Lisa’s room on movie posters. There are repeated visual references to Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon. Lisa watches George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead while home alone. Furthermore, the overall sense of humour makes the story feel like the spiritual lovechild of films like Death Becomes Her and Weird Science.
Another high point of the film’s aesthetic and world-building is the soundtrack. Given that the story takes place in 1989, there is no shortage of 1980’s music played at full volume. The perfectly curated soundtrack makes the story feel all the more immersive. Music is an integral part of the love language between Lisa and The Creature. I didn’t anticipate how emotional I would become at the use of an REO Speedwagon song.
Whether you’re looking for a hilarious new rom com to add to your Valentine’s Day (and Halloween) playlists, or in search of the warm embrace of a nostalgic coming-of-age story, Lisa Frankenstein delivers the goods. Kathryn Newton and Cole Sprouse are painfully cute together in the best way, and Carla Gugino chews up each and every scene she’s in with her rendition of the ‘evil step-mother’ archetype.
Perhaps most unexpected of all is Liza Soberano as Taffy, Lisa’s step-sister. Soberano already has a successful career in the Philippines but is making her Hollywood debut. Without giving away spoilers, Soberano gives her strongest performance when she has to do “horror movie acting”. It’s the type of acting that lets you know she’s more than prepared to play the Final Girl in a straight-up horror movie (as opposed to a horror-comedy).
Lisa Frankenstein first caught my attention because of how well-cut together its first teaser trailer was, and the impact of choosing Kim Petras’ “In The Next Life” to soundtrack the teaser’s fast-paced editing. However, it is the film’s total commitment to delivering every facet of its concept with the highest quality possible that has me giving it my first 5/5 rating of 2024.
To hear more of my thoughts, watch my Lisa Frankenstein video review here:
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