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Lisa Frankenstein

Updated: Mar 29

Zelda Williams and Diablo Cody deliver a nostalgic dark comedy

Despite being a beloved screenwriter for film fans of the last 20 years, Diablo Cody has only penned 6 feature films. Her distinct and bold style has followed a trajectory of examining the taboo and unsaid of modern Western womanhood, from teen pregnancies in Juno (2007), to sexual assault in Jennifer’s Body (2009), and tolls of motherhood in Tully (2018). Her latest film, however, looks back into a nostalgic world of the 1980s.

Lisa Frankenstein (2024) is the story of Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) a solitary high school senior who prefers to hang in a cemetery than with her peers. Lisa fails to connect with her cruel stepmother (Carla Gugino), ignorant father (Joe Chrest), and spritely stepsister (Liza Soberano). One stormy night, however, a grave is struck by lightning, reanimating the 19th century bachelor (Cole Sprouse) buried underneath. Lisa hides him, and find she connects better with a corpse than any living person.

Lisa Frankenstein is the feature directorial debut of Zelda Williams, daughter of the late Robin Williams. Her pairing with Cody’s script proves to be a winning formula, as the young director brings about a bold and colorful aesthetic helping settle the darkly comic tone Cody is aiming for. Lisa Frankenstein is also less of a “Frankenstein” adaptation than it is a spiritual cousin to Heathers (1988) or Tim Burton’s early gothic phase. Williams’ use of neon and bold colors helps to clash the tone and setting of 1980s consumerism with the darker and more morbid themes in the film.

Lisa Frankenstein could have easily gone down as a tacky romance of creature and human such as Twilight (2008), Beastly (2011), or Warm Bodies (2013), but Williams and Cody push their film into becoming something more unique and refreshingly disturbing instead. Not only is Lisa Frankenstein surprisingly explicit for a PG-13 film, but it’s dark humor and narrative beats approach the likes of Martin McDonagh’s or the Coen Brothers films in how far they’re willing to commit to a dreary premise.

Williams and Cody, however, do struggle with having Lisa’s character evolve organically. Lisa seems to jump arcs with a simple switch instead of having an emotional urge for making a particular decision. This affects the plot structure as well, with the film struggling to find a central objective or throughline for its characters to pursue, making certain story beats shifts give viewers whiplash. This reflects the indecisive and bipolar nature of teenagers’ emotions themselves, which the film seeks to emulate, yet it also leaves the narrative jumbled. The morbidity in Lisa Frankenstein also mirrors Heathers in exuding the worry that the wrong message could be taken by teenagers regarding how to approach one’s problems.

Lisa Frankenstein is spearheaded by a trio of young actors, Newton, Sprouse, and a scene-stealing Soberano. Newton has proved a talented and energetic actress in stale projects such as Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (2019), Freaky (2020), and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023), Lisa Frankenstein finally gives her zany and intriguing material to work with, and one only hopes she can continue along a similar path in future projects. Sprouse sheds the smoldering hunk that he’d been pigeonholed in with roles in Riverdale (2017-2023) and Five Feet Apart (2019) delivering an impressive performance as The Creature that is practically non-verbal. Finally, Soberano takes what could have easily become an obnoxious and generic stepsister character and gives her a sweetness and depth that transforms her into one of the more intriguing characters of the film.

Led by a trio of fantastic young actors, Lisa Frankenstein is a stylish and confident dark comedy that delivers on 80s nostalgia with a boldness and cheek that took me by surprise. The plot suffers from a lack of a consistent motivation, and the lead character’s progression is scantily constructed, but they don’t prevent Lisa Frankenstein from being a solid debut for Williams and another winning exploration of female angst from Cody.



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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