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Review: Gothic Romance and Dark Comedy Dominate ‘Lisa Frankenstein’

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Diablo Cody has been in the screenwriting game a long time. Her debut, Juno, won her the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. She enjoys continued success, notably in her continued collaborations with Juno director Jason ReitmanYoung Adult and Tully. The film younger generations tend to latch onto is the Megan Fox starring vehicle Jennifer’s Body. Its queer themes, sardonic comedy, and true horror cement it as a modern-day genre staple. Now, Diablo Cody returns to the realm of horror comedy, this time helping usher in a new talent in the same way Reitman gave her the spotlight, in first-time director Zelda Williams. The resulting film, Lisa Frankenstein, is an ode to the outsider; a pitch-black rom-com to warm all the little goth hearts out there.

Don’t go in expecting Lisa Frankenstein to be Jennifer’s Body 2.0. Although Cody has claimed the two films are set in the same universe, the only thing that links them is a transgressive nature. Starring Kathryn Newton and Cole SprouseLisa Frakenstein‘s colorful ’80s sensibilities mask a prickliness that might turn unsuspecting audiences off. For the true dark hearts out there, it’s sweet as a valentine.

Kathryn Newton and Cole Sprouse are goth excellence in Lisa Frankenstein

Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) doesn’t fit in. After her mother is murdered by an unknown axe-wielding maniac, her interests turn to the macabre. Angsty music and dark poetry are her only respite from the casual cruelty of her stepmother (Carla Gugino) and the aloofness of her father (Joe Chrest). Her stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano) tries her best to help Lisa fit in, but Lisa is not ready to integrate into a new high school. One day, after a freak electrical storm, she gets an unlikely companion in the form of an undead Creature (Cole Sprouse) risen from the grave.

Kathryn Newton dazzles as the titular Lisa Frankenstein. Even in her sullen state at the start of the film, Lisa emits a radiant, off-kilter spirit just waiting to get out. The Creature, himself a hilariously decomposing mess, helps tease that out of her. Cole Sprouse earns big laughs in a shambling, near wordless performance. If Lisa is broken on the inside, he’s broken on the outside, missing an ear, a hand, and… err… a male reproductive organ.

Zelda Williams establishes her voice as director

Zelda Williams makes a strong impression in her feature directorial debut. The 1980s setting allows her and cinematographer Paula Huidobro to establish a candy-colored environment, accentuated by the occasional neon splash. Of course, you can’t have an 80s movie without a litany of needle drops. There are some great ones here! Be ready to tap your toes to hits from When In Rome and The Jesus and Mary Chain.

What Williams really nails in the anarchic spirit of the ’80s horror comedy. There are some great sight gags involving Lisa having to sew new parts onto the Creature cribbed from dead bodies, putting the Creature into a tanning bed to bond the extremities, and then testing them out. The logic’s zany, and that makes it more endearing. Moreover, it never gets old seeing Lisa having to hide The Creature as he keeps attempting to interact in the neighborhood.

Lisa Frankenstein Kathryn Newton and Cole Sprouse
Kathryn Newton and Cole Sprouse in Lisa Frankenstein. (Focus Features)

Diablo Cody adds another notch to her belt

Lisa Frankenstein leads with an open heart. As Lisa helps The Creature become more civilized, she becomes more confident in herself, and they slowly turn into the goth lovers of each other’s dreams. Their relationship is played purely straight, and that’s an excellent choice. A lot of the credit goes to Zelda Williams, Kathryn Newton, and Cole Sprouse. The other part goes directly to Diablo Cody.

Few can convey the strife of the teenage experience as vividly as Diablo Cody. Although Carla Gugino‘s stepmother character is undoubtedly a stereotype, she acts as a mouthpiece for the alienation many teens experience. Furthermore, Lisa’s crush, literary magazine editor Michael Trent (Henry Eikenberry) is a recognizable character, as is the creep who makes unwanted advances at her (Bryce Romero). What stood out to me was the step-sister character Taffy (Liza Soberano) who, rather than trying to sabotage Lisa, shows a caring, genuine spirit for her.

As always, Diablo Cody is uncompromising in her vision, especially when it comes to really making Lisa Frankenstein an authentic goth movie. By that, I mean the movie goes to some seriously dark places. People die, Lisa and The Creature commit heinous actions, and the movie does not judge them. Hell, it might even condone them, their ghoulish deeds solidifying their bond. For those who don’t have a taste for the Heathers or Bones and All school of twisted romance, this isn’t the movie for you. But it shouldn’t have to be!

Lisa Frankenstein: A story for all the dark-hearted

Thankfully, this movie absolutely knows its audience. Lisa Frankenstein uses the dark and macabre, as well as the inherent camp of an undead boyfriend, in service of a genuinely wonderful experience. Lisa Frankenstein espouses the virtues of letting your freak flag fly, so it’s fitting that the creative team does the same.

Diablo Cody ushers in a valuable new talent in Zelda WilliamsKathryn Newton and Cole Sprouse continue to hone their talent, and the dark-hearted among us may have found their new favorite movie. Clear out your wall space, target audience. You’re gonna have a new poster to hang!

Lisa Frankenstein releases in theaters on February 9, 2024. Are you planning to watch this film? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or on The Cosmic Circus Discord.

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James Preston Poole

James Preston Poole is a Houston-based writer who specializes in genre film, while also screenwriting and working on film sets whenever he can. He believes that as long as there’s someone out there to champion a movie, then there’s no such thing as “objectively bad.” James holds a Bachelor of Science in Radio-Television-Film from the University of Texas and owes everything to his friends, family, significant other Catherine, and their three-legged cat Trinity.

James Preston Poole has 20 posts and counting. See all posts by James Preston Poole