Zelda Williams, daughter of Robin, is an actress of both film and video games who also directs. She’s only directed shorts beforehand, but now she’s giving viewers her debut full length feature, Lisa Frankenstein. The titular character, Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) is a high school aged girl who has a crush on a local historical figure (Cole Sprouse). This odd girl gets odder when her crush rises from the dead.
It is customary for a film about a teen girl to mostly take place in high school. Lisa Frankenstein is similar in this regard, but a corpse’s presence shakes up this community’s dynamic. The other teens notice the changes that Lisa’s looking better, which brings changes within her personality. The traumatised introvert is an extrovert now, and she becomes a more active participant within a tense love triangle.
I’m still trying to figure out what makes a Zelda Williams film, one feature length isn’t enough. But the person who leaves the biggest mark in the film is its screenwriter Diablo Cody. Her second foray into campy horror comedy, she understands how to bring both the tangible and intangible. Lisa Frankenstein is a world with a magical tanning bed as well a metaphorical monster growing within its protagonist.
The metaphorical monster in Lisa Frankenstein may harm a lot of people, and the biggest tension here is whether or not Lisa or the Monster harms her stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano). But thankfully, the film pulls it back by constantly reincorporating fun to the proceedings. It has callbacks from Barbie to duh, Mary Shelley, but its references mostly reflect its 1989 setting and the Tim Burton films that came out back then.
The references in Lisa Frankenstein may make it less original and yes, some of those feel egregious. The worst one, if we can call it that, is when the Monster starts dressing like a specific abuser. Other things, however, feel like Williams just using regular filmic language like visual gags with effectiveness. The scene where Taffy tells a part of Lisa’s backstory to an increasing number of listeners is funny enough.
One last thing about Lisa is that she may be the least subtle of all of Cody’s (anti)heroines. And yes, three people may be to blame for why Newton’s performance may be missing beats and overstepping on others. But then again this is a film about a young woman who becomes an egomaniac. A film about that, then, will be full of actors overacting but you know, in a fun way.
Watch Lisa Frankenstein in a theatre near you.