FILM REVIEW — “Lisa Frankenstein” for the goth kids only

Published 12:02 am Friday, February 9, 2024

“Lisa Frankenstein”

Focus Features

Directed by Zelda Williams

Starring Kathryn Newton, Cole Sprouse, Liza Soberano, Carla Gugino and Joe Chrest

Rated PG-13

2 Stars

Remember those goth kids from back in high school?

They thought they were cooler and smarter than everybody else. Well, they’re back, in a manner of speaking, in the form of a new slasher/comedy/coming-of-age movie known as “Lisa Frankenstein.”

I suspect your feelings toward goth culture and Gen X stereotypes will largely determine whether you think “Lisa Frankenstein” is a campy laugh riot or a complete waste of time at the movies.

Kathryn Newton stars as Lisa, a young woman dealing with a lot of pressure in her life. Her mother was murdered. Her dad is remarried, and her new stepmom (Carla Gugino) is toxic.

If that’s not bad enough, she is transferring to a new school. So, yeah, times are hard for our misunderstood heroine.

Her sister (Liza Soberano) tries to help out, but Lisa would rather spend her time at the local cemetery, where she develops an odd fascination with one of the headstones.

You know, like all teenage girls do.

After a bit of lightning-induced mumbo jumbo, the corpse lying under that headstone (Cole Sprouse) rises from the dead and heads off to find Lisa.

Sure, he’s covered in dirt and riddles with worms, but Lisa falls for the big dead lug.

And who cares if he’s missing a few body parts?

The two embark on a murder spree, which allows them to stock up on spare body parts.

Obviously, “Lisa Frankenstein” is a very dark comedy, at least in theory. The film has a few quirky moments, and it definitely leans into its campy appeal, but that’s not the same as actually making an audience laugh.

I would feel a lot better about recommending the movie as a guilty pleasure if it had been genuinely funny, but instead we are left with a film that tries to substitute transgressive elements for actual comedic moments. It just doesn’t work.

That being said, I did enjoy Newton as the title character. She is quite engaging, even after the screenplay forces her to careen from misunderstood kid to deranged killer in the blink of an eye.

The actress is charismatic enough to hold our interest no matter what happens. And as the corpse, Sprouse is also quite good in what is essentially a non-verbal performance. He certainly makes the most out of a few, well-timed grunts.

Despite these performances, the breakout star here is Soberano as the sister, who steals the show at every turn. Perhaps that’s because she seems to be the only one trying to do comedy.

If only because she made me laugh, I was far more interested in her character than in either of our two romantic leads.

Ultimately, “Lisa Frankenstein” is an inconsistent movie.

In her directorial debut, Zelda Williams (daughter of Robin) struggles to maintain a consistent tone. The stylistic whiplash makes it difficult to sit through the movie. I’m also not a huge fan of the screenplay, which is surprising as the normally reliable Diablo Cody penned it.

Her trademark wit simply isn’t in the bones of this story.

Which means that “Lisa Frankenstein” skates by on its transgressive love story. Not too transgressive mind you, as it is rated PG-13.

I don’t think this is a film for all audiences, but if you’re among those who thought that the goth kids in high school were cool, then you might be amused by this odd little movie.

Orange Newsmedia publishes movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” each week. Sean welcomes your comments via email at sean@seanthemovieguy.com.