Web Analytics Made Easy - Statcounter

Amusing Lisa Frankenstein a jolt of electrical bliss

Share this Post:
Focus Features
Focus Features


I have a suspicion that Lisa Frankenstein will end up being one of 2024's most rewatchable releases. It has plenty of issues, and goodness knows director Zelda Williams and Academy Award—winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) do not end up fully exploring several intriguing plot strands. But the film is so gosh-darn adorable that I honestly don't care. I laughed throughout, and even with all the goofily dismembered mayhem, there was an innate sweetness that captured my heart and refused to let it go.

After the brutal axe-murder of her mother a year prior, 17-year-old high school senior Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) is navigating a new school alongside her perpetually optimistic cheerleader stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano). The former's secret spot to escape from the world is a ramshackle 19th-century "bachelor" cemetery located in a dense forest on the outskirts of town. One stormy night — after accidentally ingesting hallucinogens at a party and barely avoiding sexual assault — Lisa stumbles to her favorite gravesite and mumbles a wish to be with the attractive young man (based on his tombstone's statue) buried in the earth below.

The next night, a zombified male (Cole Sprouse) bursts out of his coffin and wants nothing more than to befriend Lisa. While she helps him with a few missing body parts (an ear here, a hand there), he assists her in breaking out of her timid shell. And if a few people end up dead along the way? That's okay. They likely deserved it.

Focus Features  

If what follows is more George Romero than Mary Shelley, that's fine by me. Set in 1989, this film is a melding of My Boyfriend's Back and Encino Man, with a vaguely Tim Burton-esque shimmer and a decidedly feminist bent. It's hard not to imagine that Cody sat at her writing desk with a massive grin on her face as she dreamt this nonsense up. Newton was born to play a character like Lisa, and her devious sprightliness is marvelous. But it might be Soberano who makes the most lasting impression. She's a scene-stealing sensation worth keeping an eye on.

Williams sets the right anarchic tone, but the filmmaker's pacing is slightly haphazard. The opening third is delightful, filled with colorfully imaginative visuals, goopy practical makeup effects, and several hearty laughs. Williams also does a nice job of setting the foundation for Lisa and Taffy's sisterly friendship.

The next third doesn't work quite as well. While Newton and Sprouse are a solid team, the elements outlining their relationship and emotional reliance on one another are too vaguely executed. The same goes for Lisa's She's All That-style transformation from geeky wallflower to gothic siren. It's somewhat similar to what Newton did in Freaky, and it's a testament to the actor's skill that she manages to make these moments feel remotely fresh. Even then, there's still an aura of overfamiliarity that's difficult to avoid, and maybe that's why Williams quickly rushes through these scenes to get to the final act.

Everything gets back on track during the rambunctious last section. None of it makes a lick of sense — not that it needs to — and I'm certain some won't be nearly as fond of where Cody takes things as I was. But it is here where the connection between Lisa and her undead friend fully comes alive, and while there are laughs, even amid all the loopy absurdity, I really appreciated the emotional authenticity Williams and the cast brought to the climax.

As well as 2009's Jennifer's Body has aged, it's admittedly difficult not to have expected Cody's return to the satirical horror-comedy subgenre to have had sharper teeth. But Lisa Frankenstein is more of a warmhearted lark than a pointed social commentary. Thankfully, Newton's star continues to rise, and there were moments that had me chuckling so hard, I almost choked on my popcorn. Yet it's the unexpected heart at the center of it all that won me over, and that specific shock to my system was a jolt of electrical bliss that sent me out of the theater buzzing.