The unexpected triumph of the 2007 film Juno brought a fresh face to Hollywood – a bold and outspoken stripper-turned-screenwriter who shattered traditional industry norms and defied easy categorization. Diablo Cody, who penned her breakout script before the age of 30, was honored with an Academy Award. In an industry where recognizable names are few and far between, she quickly gained a following and all eyes were on her next project.
Cody’s next film, the horror movie Jennifer’s Body, received negative feedback after her previous success, causing it to be targeted by the Razzies and rejected by viewers. However, in the years following its release, it gained a cult following and received praise for its feminist themes and Megan Fox’s performance. Its popularity has grown so much that Cody’s latest film, Lisa Frankenstein, is marketed as being from the same writer and demonstrates how streaming platforms have helped turn failures into successes.
However, while it may have been a positive outcome, Cody’s victory was long overdue. The final outcome may not be as clear-cut for viewers and fans who have been eagerly anticipating the win, as the film may end up being just another forgettable cult classic.
In a similar fashion to the highly acclaimed film “Jennifer’s Body”, writer Diablo Cody takes the traditional elements of a monster movie and puts a fresh spin on them. Set in the late 1980s, a time period that feeds into Cody’s love for nostalgia, our protagonist is now Lisa (played by Kathryn Newton), a socially awkward teenage girl trying to fit in at a new school. Lisa carries a dark past, with her mother being murdered by a masked killer, and prefers spending time at the cemetery rather than attending house parties, despite her stepsister (Liza Soberano) trying to involve her. After accidentally ingesting a hallucinogen and experiencing an attempted rape, Lisa’s favorite grave is disturbed and a reanimated corpse (played by Cole Sprouse from “Riverdale”) becomes a secret she must keep hidden in her closet.
This film is a lighter, PG-13 version of the more intense R-rated horror movie Jennifer’s Body. It takes place in the 80s and can be compared to other teenage comedy-horror films from that time period. Director Zelda Williams, daughter of Robin Williams, not only references lesser-known movies like My Boyfriend’s Back and Teen Witch, but also pays homage to popular films like Heathers and Tim Burton’s works. The attention to detail in the period references is commendable, but the film falls short in its pacing and script, which could have been more polished. Lisa’s eagerness to help her zombified friend on a murderous mission is questionable, considering how grotesque and unresponsive he is. It also seems too easy for her to find acceptance elsewhere. Lisa’s character is not well-defined beyond her appearance, and actress Kathryn Newton lacks the same confidence she showed in her performance in Freaky (2020), a more cohesive mix of genres. While Newton has some good moments, it is the perfectly-cast Liza Soberano and the delightfully wicked Carla Gugino as her evil stepmother who steal the show, capturing the essence of 80s tropes.
The movie seems to be stuck between two genres, a lighthearted comedy about a sleepover for tweens and a full-fledged body horror. As a result, some scenes feel awkwardly toned down, as if they are preparing for an unrated DVD release with more graphic scenes. The sharp and edgy dialogue from writer Cody also feels watered down, perhaps due to her holding back. Despite being highly underrated, her 2011 comedy “Young Adult” remains one of the best and most brutal films ever made. Rather than becoming a new favorite for teenage goth-lite fans, the movie ends up being more suitable for their parents to watch and reminisce. To its credit, “Lisa Frankenstein” wears its influences proudly on its black lace sleeves, but it lacks true originality. There is only so much nostalgia we can handle before wanting to see something new and innovative. While attempting to revive a subgenre, Cody and Williams could have injected a bit more life into it.
The movie “Lisa Frankenstein” will be released in US theaters on February 9th and in UK theaters on March 1st. The release date for Australia has not been announced yet.