Lisa Frankenstein review | Kathryn Newton charms in this otherwise lacklustre horror comedy

lisa frankenstein review
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Kathryn Newton accidentally resurrects her perfect man, but ends up going on a killing spree to make him whole. Here’s our Lisa Frankenstein review. 

Lisa Frankenstein, Zelda Williams’ feature directorial debut, follows Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton), your typical awkward teenager who spends an unusual amount of time in the local cemetery, pining over a dreamy, if dead, man buried there. She goes there mostly to escape her hellish home life, which includes a too-perfect step sister, a tyrannical stepmother and an absent-minded father. 

The plot really gets going when Lisa accidentally awakens her dream man. Together, they embark on a strange killing spree to make him whole again and the more they kill, the more confidence Lisa gains. 

As is evident from the title, Williams’ film is a riff on the classic story of Frankenstein. Writer Diablo Cody takes the bare bones of that story and adds in plenty of 80s nostalgia with a healthy dose of horror. Visually, Lisa Frankenstein lands somewhere in between Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice, with a hint of Sixteen Candles. There are moments of genuine weirdness, but ultimately, this is a very traditional coming of age story. 

lisa frankenstein
Credit: Universal Pictures

The film begins with a funky animation sequence which explains how Lisa’s dream man, played by Cole Sprouse, ended up six feet under after losing his love. It hints at a film that isn’t afraid to take chances, that isn’t afraid to have a little flavour to its storytelling. Yet Lisa Frankenstein constantly plays things a little too safe to be truly memorable. 

Newton, who was endlessly charming in films such as Freaky and Blockers, carries the film on her shoulders. In her hands, Lisa is both the hero and the villain of the story as she gains the upper hand and takes revenge against those who have wronged her in the past. Newton also brilliantly taps into her more vulnerable side as Lisa experiences unimaginable heartbreak and confronts past trauma. 

Sprouse is tasked with a mostly physical performance. He does an admirable job, but is helplessly in Newton’s shadow. Carla Gugino, as Lisa’s evil stepmother, is a hoot, but she’s not given much room to showcase her talents. Aside from Lisa, no one is really awarded any character development, but then again, we’re mostly in it for the kills, right? 

Lisa Frankenstein also has a groovy 80s soundtrack and killer costume design, but the film lacks energy. Rated PG-13 in the US and 15 in the UK, Lisa Frankenstein seems to want to be a full-blooded horror comedy, but can’t commit to the horror bit. The kills are frustratingly bloodless, but Williams and Cody still hint at some pretty serious themes such as sexual abuse and… well, murder. It’s a little unclear who Lisa Frankenstein is aimed at; it’s a little dark for pre-teens but might not have enough action and bloodshed for older audiences. 

The film shares a lot of similarities with Jennifer’s Body, which was also written by Cody and has recently been reassessed as a bit of a cult classic. Lisa Frankenstein lacks the sheer boldness of Jennifer’s Body and despite Newton’s delightful performance, the rest of the cast doesn’t really rise to the challenge. 

Williams’ direction is also missing a unique voice; Lisa Frankenstein loses its identity in a sea of references and homages to other, arguably better films. Cody’s dialogue is still sizzling, but Lisa Frankenstein never comes together as it should. Newton works her magic and she’s a magnetic presence on screen, but it’s not quite enough to save the film. 

Lisa Frankenstein is in UK cinemas 1st March. 

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