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Saturday, April 20
The Indiana Daily Student

arts

COLUMN: ‘Lisa Frankenstein’ flirts with the macabre in style

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We’re so back. 

That’s what I thought to myself as I gawked at the vibrant display of neon lighting, over-the-top ‘80s iconography and teenage rage projected in front of me. In retrospect, I should’ve anticipated how up-my-alley “Lisa Frankenstein” was going to be; after all, it was written by Diablo Cody, the same woman who blessed the world with “Jennifer’s Body” in 2009. 

Set in 1989, this romantic horror comedy follows Lisa Swallows, a misunderstood outcast who’s recovering from witnessing her mother's brutal murder by an axe-wielding serial killer. She spends her days at a decrepit cemetery hidden in the woods, caring for the graves of people who didn’t have family.  

When lightning strikes the grave of a young Victorian-era bachelor Lisa is especially drawn to, his corpse is reanimated, and they form an unlikely friendship. As they go to increasingly violent measures to replace his missing body parts, their body count rises and their love for each other grows. 

First and foremost, it’s time to give actress Kathryn Newton her flowers. Her comedic timing and ability to hold the deliciously outrageous plot together is seamless. Newton’s magnetic presence centers the film, giving it a much-needed emotional focal point. Despite the film’s fantastical tone, she brings complexity and empathy to Lisa.  

Cole Sprouse is surprisingly good opposite Newton. His performance as the Creature is akin to that of a mime: it’s almost entirely physical, yet he manages to convey a plethora of emotions through his actions and facial expressions. Sprouse clearly had a lot of fun with the Creature’s persistent grunting and murderous instincts.  

Horror icon Carla Gugino also devours every scene she’s in as Lisa’s wicked stepmother. She nails the mannerisms of a suburban housewife ready to crack. 

“Lisa Frankenstein” is aggressively ‘80s, but it walks the line between parody and authenticity in clever ways thanks to director Zelda Williams’s keen eye for style. The interior sets feel lived in. Lisa’s bedroom reflects her angst, but it also shows off her unique personality (her Bauhaus poster means so much to me). Lisa's outfits coincide with her changing disposition; they become bolder and darker as she builds confidence and her relationship with the Creature progresses.  

The soundtrack represents the era without being overbearing. In a montage where Lisa broods through her high school’s halls, the music supervisor opted to use the Pixies’ “Wave of Mutilation” instead of “Where Is My Mind?,” the objectively easier choice. The song fits with the sequence’s melodramatic tone, but it also works as a tongue-in-cheek reference to Lisa’s increasingly violent tendencies. There are some overtly playful inclusions too; namely Jojo’s cover of “Can’t Find This Feeling Anymore” and “On the Wings of Love” by Jeffrey Osborne, which is used in an especially shocking slo-mo scene in the film’s climax. 

The film is chock-full of references to iconic ‘80s films. From “Heathers” to “Weird Science,” it’s clear that Williams and Cody embraced the film’s predecessors with open arms. With its sardonically playful dialogue and unwavering commitment to the very concept it’s trying to pull off, “Lisa Frankenstein” feels like it could’ve been released in that era.  

The stakes feel somewhat low because there’s no overarching antagonistic force, but it’s still easy to emotionally invest in these characters — yes, even the Creature. Even though the film could’ve benefited from some classic B-movie blood-spatter (the on-screen violence is minimal due to the PG-13 rating), its edginess is supplemented by the carefully constructed tone. It’s campy, it’s kooky, but most importantly, it’s fun! 

I hate to throw this coveted title around because it’s difficult to gauge how a film will be perceived as time progresses, but “Lisa Frankenstein” feels destined to become a cult classic. 

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