Lisa Frankenstein Stitches Together a Lackluster Take on a Genre Icon

Photo credit: Michele K. Short / Courtesy of Focus Features

I’m a huge fan of anything Frankenstein-related. Whether it’s the old Universal films, the not-quite-as-old (but still pretty old) Hammer movies, or newer reimaginings like The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster, I’m always down to watch a film inspired by Mary Shelley’s classic novel. So naturally, when I first heard about Lisa Frankenstein, the movie instantly landed near the top of my most-anticipated list. Not only is this a modern reimagining of a story I love, but it was also written by Diablo Cody (of Juno and Jennifer’s Body fame), so I was sure it would thrill me and make me laugh in equal measure.

Lisa Frankenstein was directed by Zelda Willians, and it stars Kathryn Newton, Cole Sprouse, Liza Soberano, Joe Chrest, and Carla Gugino. It’s a coming-of-age story about a shy high school senior named Lisa who likes to spend her free time in a local cemetery, and she’s formed a special attachment to one resident in particular. She doesn’t know much about the guy, but for some reason, she likes to tend his grave and talk to him while she’s there.

It’s pretty weird, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. One day, the man’s corpse magically comes back to life, and he and Lisa quickly become friends.  What’s more, she soon realizes that he’s missing a few body parts, so the duo engages in some murderous activity to make him whole again.

On paper, that sounds like a great idea for a movie, but unfortunately, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Let’s start with the humor. On the whole, I’d say Lisa Frankenstein is pretty funny, so this is hands down the best thing about the film. It’s loaded with knee-slapping gags from beginning to end, so it had me laughing out loud several times.

A woman staring intently
Photo courtesy of Fous Features

That being said, the jokes in this movie are far from perfect. To be sure, every comedy has some humor that doesn’t land, but this one has a bit more than I was expecting. In particular, the humor gets noticeably worse in the third act, so by the time the credits began to roll, I was pretty down about it overall. However, after a bit of reflection, I couldn’t deny that Lisa Frankenstein had its fair share of hilarious moments as well, so on the whole, the comedy here gets a thumbs up from me.

However, it’s not nearly enough to carry the entire movie, so the story, characters, and horror have to pick up some of the slack. But sadly, they’re not nearly up to the task. Take the story, for instance. Once you get past the novel horror trappings, Lisa Frankenstein is fairly generic.

It’s the same “shy girl comes out of her shell” plot we’ve seen a million times before, so while it’s not particularly bad, it’s also not interesting, at least not on its own. It’s the kind of story that stands or falls almost entirely on the strength of its characters, and as you can probably guess, they’re nothing to write home about either.

For example, Lisa’s stepsister is little more than the cliche pretty girl, and her father is just the dry comic relief. They both have some really funny lines, but as characters, they’re too thin to make much of an impression.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Lisa’s stepmother, and you’ll remember her long after you walk out of the theater. But not in a good way. She’s an outrageously and obnoxiously over-the-top drama queen who feels completely out of place in this movie, so I cringed a bit every time she came on screen.

Lisa and the Monster looking concerned
Photo credit: Michele K. Short / Courtesy of Focus Features

On top of all that, the Monster is about as bland as can be, and that’s pretty much the nail in the coffin. All this guy does for the majority of Lisa Frankenstein is shamble around stiffly and make indistinct grunts and groans, so there’s nothing interesting about him. And since he’s one-half of the beating heart of this story, the entire thing just falls apart.

To be fair, Lisa isn’t bad, and Kathryn Newton gives a good performance in the role. However, the character’s arc is so wrapped up with the Monster that she simply can’t stand on her own. The pair are a unit, so they sink or swim together. And unfortunately, the Monster is so bland he just drags her down with him.

Last but not least, let’s talk about the horror in Lisa Frankenstein. This film is rated PG-13, so don’t go into it expecting hardcore blood and violence. Sure, Lisa and the Monster do some terrible things, but on a visual level, it’s all pretty tame. In fact, I’d even say that the movie feels more like a violent Tim Burton movie than a straight-up horror flick, so the genre elements simply aren’t prominent enough to move the needle all that much.

So at the end of the day, I’m sad to report that I wouldn’t recommend Lisa Frankenstein. Sure, it has some excellent humor, but there’s also some not-so-excellent comedy in here, and everything else about the film is mediocre at best. The story had all the potential in the world, but the execution just isn’t up to par. This is the biggest letdown of the year so far, and while that may not mean much in February, it’s still a huge bummer for a Frankenstein fan like me.

Lisa Frankenstein is set to hit theaters on February 9.

Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong movie fan, and his favorite genres are horror, superheroes, and giant monsters.

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