The classic teen movie returned with a bizarre, bloody bang this Valentine’s Day with Lisa Frankenstein. A joint effort between first-time director Zelda Williams and the Oscar-winning Diablo Cody (Jennifer’s Body, Juno, Tully), this film is a remarkably campy love letter to Mary Shelley, horror cinema, and weird girls everywhere. The film twists the 200-year-old tale and imagines what would happen if Frankenstein’s monster met its author. Would she reject him like everyone else? Or would she look past the rotting flesh and green ooze to see the patchwork heart of gold within?

Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) is a high school senior in 1989 suffering all the typical headaches of her age: hopeless awkwardness, a dull part-time job, and a new stepmother who wants her dead. Oh, and her cool, poetic crush (an alternate Percy Shelley) doesn’t seem to like her back. After a disastrous party experience, Lisa stumbles into the local abandoned cemetery to find comfort at her favourite Victorian grave; every girl has her quirks! But before long, a violent midnight storm sparks new life into her buried companion (Cole Sprouse). The Creature’s earthly return sets Lisa on a shocking, slippery slope stuffed with secrets, self-discovery, and playful PG-13 style slaughter. 

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Newton and Sprouse triumph in their roles with exceptional physicality and emotional value. Newton, specifically, delivers Diablo Cody’s idiosyncratic dialogue with a natural tone that allows the humour to shine. She brings to screen the same sense of authenticity that made for the career-best performances of Megan Fox, Elliot Page, and Charlize Theron in Cody’s previous films. Sprouse, as well, has never had as great of a stage presence than in this non-speaking role. It’s safe to say the intensive mime training was well worth the effort.

Not unlike the style of artist Lisa Frank, the film makes stunning use of coloured lighting, distinguishing everything from the graveyard to Lisa’s backyard shed of creation. Radiant suburban homes with lawns of too-green grass are a well-crafted homage to the candy-coated setting of Edward Scissorhands, whose themes of mad science and conformity echo across Lisa’s adventure. Both saturated sets work to engross their viewers in the absurd narratives of their respective films. Building on this whimsy, Williams floods the film with classic film references from A Trip to the Moon to The Bride of Frankenstein, often toeing the line between charming and cloying—but, thankfully, mostly charming!

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Unfortunately, the final act of Lisa Frankenstein is its most fruitless feature. After their terrifying first meeting, the mute Creature offers Lisa a kind ear (literally, as he only has one ear left). With him, Lisa can be herself without fear of judgment; she reflects on her mother’s death, raves about boys, and occasionally chops body parts off of those who have wronged her. Thus begins the transformation of our heroine from coy and graceless to unapologetically eccentric and—after the obligatory makeover— extremely fashionable.  But between three murder cover-ups and a love triangle, Lisa’s journey is pure chaos with no falling action. The distance between the climax and resolution is traversed at lightning speed, and the film fails to allow her an ultimate moment of growth. In the end, it’s unclear how Lisa’s actions have changed her, for better or worse. There is no lesson learned for Miss Swallows, only a blunt-forced conclusion. Her personal development gets lost amid competing storylines, unfortunately producing an anticlimactic end to this otherwise delightful horror comedy.

Like the original novel’s author, Lisa finds solace from personal horrors in her loving Creature. His mutism allows her the space to find joy in her own voice once again. In the 1818 text, Shelley’s Creature professes: “I am malicious because I am miserable; am I not shunned and hated by all mankind?” Rejected as he was, the only ones to understand his true nature were Shelley, his author, and the reader beyond the page. Likewise, Lisa Swallows is the only person to know and love her resurrected love interest. She offers him this understanding because she herself is an outcast in her school, her town, and her own home; and from this kinship, they fall for each other. Well, I did say this was a love letter to the weird girls. Lisa Frankenstein is fun and far from perfect, but its innovative heart makes the most unique ticket at the box office this year so far.