Lisa Frankenstein (2024)

Director Zelda Williams and Diablo Cody’s “Lisa Frankenstein” doesn’t just wear its influences on its sleeves, it bedazzles those influences and flashes its sleeves around proudly. “Lisa Frankenstein” watches as if Diablo Cody pitched: “Remember “Edward Scissorhands”? What if “Edward Scissorhands” but in the 80’s?” All the cards are set up from minute one, from the Gothic animated opening sequence, and the pastel photography, while Kathryn Newton and Cole Sprouse do their very best Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp impersonations.

Mix in “Heathers,” “My Boyfriend’s Back,” and “Warm Bodies” and we’re given what is essentially a ton of talent with no place to go.

Kathryn Newton stars as goth high school misfit teen Lisa Swallows. She’s a misunderstood misfit who befriends a reanimated zombie bachelor who died in 1837. Cole Sprouse plays the Victorian era zombie/Frankenstein monster who is in dire need of some replacement parts. Now intent on keeping him as a companion, Lisa and her zombie lover begin seeking out and dismembering random folks in town as a means of upgrading his body. Those random victims are, of course, those that have either crossed Lisa, or threaten the happiness of the unlikely couple. 

I feel like there is a great, touching film beneath “Lisa Frankenstein” and its obsession with kitsch and whimsy. Zelda Williams spends so much time trying to capture a look that feels like Jon Waters with Tim Burton that the movie lacks any real soul. Everything about the film right down to the scene wipes feels like its posturing itself and never touches down on interesting themes about love, grief, acceptance, and or growing up. Newton is a very talented actress who can never really get lost in the character, even when the movie squeezes in some moments of fleeting entertainment. I also thought Cole Sprouse was just fine in his role as the dreamy monster lover of Lisa.

In spite of her small fleeting role, Carla Gugino is also a lot of fun as Lisa’s maniacal stepmom who delights in belittling and demeaning her stepdaughter. “Lisa Frankenstein” also feels heavily edited and chopped up to where it felt like Williams and Cody had a much gorier and gruesome horror comedy in mind. Everything feels so restrained which is sad considering the film could have benefitted from more splatter and grue. Aside from that, Diablo Cody’s wildly uneven script makes “Lisa Frankenstein” a difficult movie to peg. Sometimes it sinks in to body horror, then a creature romance and then it also tends to dabble in suburban satire in the vein of Jon Waters here and there.

Nothing ever feels cohesive or even remotely coherent as Williams and Cody are so much more committed to trotting out their winks and visual tributes to better genre pictures of this ilk. I wish it were a better outcome for Zelda Williams who has talent and charisma for days, but with “Lisa Frankenstein” she stumbles and stumbles hard, incapable of really finding her own voice or making a memorable stamp on the genre.