Sometimes, a film I’ve seen is either so good or so bad, I have so much to say about it that I have a hard time getting started. Needless to say, I’ve been stuck on how to begin my review of Zelda Williams’ “Lisa Frankenstein” for quite some time. Misguided and inept from the word “go,” this is one of the most lifeless films I’ve ever had the misfortune of sitting through. Poorly conceived from the start, the lack of energy throughout is truly remarkable. I would think that working on a feature film would generate an inherent sense of excitement that would translate to the screen. If this is so, “Frankenstein” trumps this notion so convincingly, one would think such a task was akin to being sentenced to life imprisonment in a Russian gulag.
So misguided and lazy, I think the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science should be notified of this abomination and consider taking back the Oscar they once bestowed on writer Diablo Cody. That “Frankenstein” sprang from the same mind that produced “Juno,” “Jennifer’s Body,” and “Young Adult,” is as incongruous as Larry the Cable Guy at the MET Gala. A pastiche of elements from her own work, Tim Burton’s films, a dash of the Universal Horror movies, and just a bit of Mary Shelley, the foundation here is sound but what’s constructed upon it is flimsy, disjointed, and dull.
Having witnessed her mother’s death at the hands of an axe murderer, Lisa (Kathryn Newton) is doing her best to deal with her trauma. Her becoming withdrawn is to be expected. Her hanging out in an old, abandoned cemetery is something else altogether. She becomes fascinated with the grave of a young man named “Frankenstein,” decorating and leaving offerings upon it. One evening, during a violent thunderstorm, it’s struck by lightning, reanimating the corpse (Cole Sprouse) within. The Creature finds Lisa, who realizes he’s a kindred spirit and hides him out in her closet.
That she is able to keep this rancid being hidden from her clueless father (Joe Chrest), callous stepmother (Carla Guigno) and well-meaning stepsister (Liza Soberano) is a potentially comedic situation that, like so many things in the movie, doesn’t pan out. There’s a listlessness to the entire film; I’ve never seen performers simply go through the motions as those involved here do. I don’t think the fault lies with the actors, but rather with Williams. Not only is there a flatness to the visuals, but the whole tone and pace is tedious. A world replete with gothic images is rendered with little imagination, a nightmare seen through the eyes of Norman Rockwell.
Equally troubling is Williams’ inability to create a darkly comic tone. A rash of murders and maimings take place as Lisa comes up with the idea of replacing her new boy toy’s vital parts, one by one. It’s tricky to render such acts as humorous but it can be done. Here, the deaths come off as callous and, at times a bit disturbing, not the feel you want for a parody of 1980’s teen rom coms.
To be sure, Newton does her best throughout to inject a bit of life in this D.O.A. feature but nothing can save this muddled mishmash. In the end, as a whole, the various parts cobbled from other sources remain inert.