13 April 2024

Film Review – Lisa Frankenstein (2024)

If you have read this intrepid writer’s work previously, firstly, thank you. Secondly, you may know that, as a child of the 1980s, if any film – no matter the genre, the story, the cast, the director, the themes – is set in then, in Greatest Decade In The History of Mankind ™, he will automatically give you a star for your troubles. You might only get one, mind you, but as a sucker for the time and the culture, you’ll get some sort of reward. That may sound disingenuous and favoritism over those that don’t feature a trip down my childhood memory lane, but I can’t help it. Heck, my favourite film is classed as a stinker by many, but its hold over me is eternal, in no small part due to the 80s campy excess. So when the trailer for Lisa Frankenstein, the new comedy from writer Diablo Cody, was first unleashed on the internet, it seemed that, once more, the echoes of said decade were calling me again.

Immediately transported back to the “time before”, the film tells the story of Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) who is still suffering the scars of her mother’s murder years before and has been uprooted after her father Dale (Joe Chrest) remarries the narcissistic Janet (Carla Gugino). She finds solace in the local cemetery and strikes up a strange fascination with a Victorian man who died in 1837 and, after some strange events involving drink spiking, tanning electrician, green lightning, and an ill-timed “wish”, comes back to life overcome with love for Lisa. The two eventually bond and soon embark on a neon-infused Bonnie and Clyde-esque murder spree to help the Creature to become a man once more.

Cody, who has been away from Hollywood since 2018’s brilliant and criminally underseen Tully, has always made a name for herself in being able to wrangle genres together whilst telling unique human stories that have, for the most part, become cult hits with 2007’s Juno becoming an award-winning mainstream hit. But it’s her much-maligned but now hugely influential Jennifer’s Body that shares much of its DNA with Lisa Frankenstein, outside of the obvious setting similarities. Cody has since said the films are a part of the same “shared universe” and it is easy to see why as it flits from throwback 80s horror comedy to a heavy story of trauma and guilt, to Cronenberg-inspired body horror to a feminist story of taking control of your power. On paper, a seemingly enthralling cocktail but the ingredients, sadly, aren’t a great mix, with each genre and sub-genre fighting for control with none of them succeeding to stand out.

But to truly make a film like this soar, for audiences to buy into the premise and the craziness therein, you need a few diamonds to bring it all to life with their unique gifts and abilities, and a huge bravo goes to the casting team, and filmmakers for the ensemble they unite for this one, which ultimately saves the film from an early grave. The balancing act here looks unnerving and dangerous but in the hands of the young leads, any doubts that they would have been able to tackle it dissipate very quickly, especially where Kathryn Newton is concerned. Already used to such high-wire acts after her turns in Freaky and Three Billboards…, she came in for some criticism after her underwhelming turn in the third Ant-Man & The Wasp last year but she redeems herself and then some with a magnificent turn that is at turns hilarious, sophisticated and smart. Add superb support from Sprouse, Gugino, and scene-stealer Liza Soberano, and combined they just about make up for the shortcomings of the narrative around them. So, like the titular monster, something of a strange concoction, but worth the admission for Newton’s spunky, charismatic lead.

★★★

In UK cinemas March 1st / Kathryn Newton, Cole Sprouse, Liza Soberano, Joe Chrest, Henry Eikenberry, Carla Gugino / Dir: Zelda Williams / Universal Pictures UK, Focus Features / 15


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