Lisa Frankenstein Review: Surprisingly Dull Horror Comedy
Horror comedies can be hard to sell, but are very entertaining when done right. Lisa Frankenstein is the latest in the genre, and it comes to us from Diablo Cody, Oscar-winning writer of films like Juno and Jennifer’s Body.
The movie stars Kathryn Newton as a teen goth named Lisa who revives a corpse (Cole Sprouse) and makes him into the man of her dreams. Zelda Williams directs the film in her feature-length directorial debut, and approaches this script with a strong vision. Unfortunately, the movie is not funny enough to give this premise the justice it deserves.
With a movie like Lisa Frankenstein, there’s a lot to love. It’s the type of movie that doesn’t take itself seriously, knows how to be campy, and wants to have fun. Certain moments or aspects of the production reminded me of what we would have seen in Clueless or a John Hughes movie of that era. It’s a mixture of that type of filmmaking with Tim Burton’s strange, misunderstood weirdo sensibilities. The aesthetic Williams goes with features a bright neon color palette, with pinks, blues, and greens popping off of the frame.
It has a lot going for it, which is why many audience members may find something of value with this zany zom-rom-com. It starts out with a black and white animated sequence, for Pete’s sake! This should be everything. Instead, it doesn’t push anything far enough. There are definitely moments that may have some dropping their jaws.
However, Lisa Frankenstein is far from the hilarious film it should be. It can be enjoyable and eccentric, but with a storyline this bonkers, it’s surprising how little it does with the concept. There’s a lot of potential for humorous set pieces, but none of them land like they should.
Early on, the film sees Lisa and Taffy (Liza Soberano) going to a party. Classic high school movie sequence. From here, we learn about Lisa’s traumatic backstory. She lost her mom at a young age, which is why she now has a horrible stepmother, played by Carla Gugino. Gugino gets saddled with some strange expository dialogue meant to give us a sense of why her character is such a mean person. It feels odd, having characterization delivered like this. Speaking of the dialogue, there’s some potential for some real zingers, but the pacing of the dialogue feels too slow for it to be funny.
As you’re watching this absurd concept about a teen girl and her zombie beau, you’ll be wondering why you’re not laughing more. There are sequences that could have offered a darker take on the antics we saw in E.T., Big Hero 6, and Bumblebee, where someone must hide their strange new companion from adults. There’s a bit of that, but it’s not enough to get the audience on the side of the filmmakers. You might actually be rolling your eyes at the lack of energy here.
Newton is occasionally fun, but there’s only so much Sprouse can do when he’s covered in zombie makeup and not saying any words. The romance between them is surprisingly charmless, but I suppose it can be challenging to have chemistry with a corpse. But then, maybe Paul Dano would disagree.
The production design and cinematography in Lisa Frankenstein are excellent, and there are times where you can see what this movie should be — a classic Halloween comfort movie that groups of teens show up to watch. It’s a PG-13 movie that gets a lot of mileage out of the rating, but it doesn’t leave much of an impression.
Cody is a strong writer. As a matter of fact, I jotted in my notes that the film reminded me of Jennifer’s Body before I even knew that the films shared the same writer. Some fans of that film may like this one, and I can see this movie becoming a cult classic, too, if all goes right.
But for me, Lisa Frankenstein was not the biting bit of horror comedy I hoped for. The film may go too far for some, yet not far enough for others. By the time it ended, it did not leave enough of an impression on me to want to rewatch it or recommend it to anyone.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 4 equates to “Poor.” The negatives outweigh the positive aspects making it a struggle to get through.
Disclosure: ComingSoon attended a press screening for our Lisa Frankenstein review.