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Shock to the Heart: The Sadness and Rage of Lisa Frankenstein

Grief, love, lightning bolts—and murder. 

lisa frankenstein sitting next to the creature in pajamas
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  • Photo Credit: Focus Features / Universal Pictures

Grief sucks, especially in the wake of an axe murder.

In director Zelda Williams’ 2024 film, Lisa Frankenstein, written and co-produced by Diablo Cody (Juno, Jennifer’s Body, Young Adult, Tully), Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) is an unfortunately named teen girl coping with her mother’s brutal death.  

Set in a neon-soaked, 80’s high school hellscape, the story takes place two years after the murder. Lisa’s grief is treated as an inconvenience by others. She’s forced to suck it up and act normal. But “normal” stuff—crimping her hair, wearing tons of blush, and ogling the hot editor of the high school literary journal—just doesn’t cut it.  

It’s a lonely existence until a lucky bolt of lightning brings a dead dude (Cole Sprouse) to life. In this Frankenstein retelling, the Creature is born. He’s kind of cute, too, in a covered-in-graveyard-dirt sort of way. And, because relationships are never easy, his softer side is balanced by a homicidal tendency. 

Screenwriter Diablo Cody often deals in absurdity while addressing the monstrous aspects of the female experience. Her protagonists tend to be young women struggling with trauma while reacting to societal expectations of how they ought to behave.  

Watch This Lisa Frankenstein Trailer

You can watch Lisa Frankenstein now on Peacock and Amazon Prime.

Diablo Cody's movies

Diablo Cody's screenplay for Juno (directed by Jason Reitman, 2007) is about a teenager (Elliot Paige) who becomes pregnant and decides to give the baby up for adoption. Juno processes the situation with unusual frankness and an eccentric, dark sense of humor.  

Jennifer’s Body (directed by Karyn Kusama, 2009) is about teenage friends, Jennifer and Needy (Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried) who drift apart after Jennifer is attacked by a group of men. The attack is rape-coded and Jennifer is ultimately possessed by a demon that makes her kill boys. With each kill, she looks healthier and sexier. 

Young Adult (directed by Jason Reitman, 2011) is about a depressed novelist in her thirties, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) who returns to her hometown to win back her high school boyfriend. The catch is that he’s married with a baby. Mavis is used to getting by on her good looks, but the situation inevitably unravels.  

The sort-of sequel, Tully (directed by Jason Reitman, 2018), also starring Theron but as a different character, is about an overwhelmed new mom coping with postpartum delirium and the loss of her pre-baby identity.  

All about the Lisa Frankenstein movie

still shot of lisa frankenstein of the main charactor sitting on her bed next to her undead friend
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  • Photo Credit: Peacock

In telling these emotional stories, Cody cleverly balances darkness with comedy. Even a teenage succubus can be relatable if she’s fun at parties. 

Lisa Frankenstein follows suit with its own bizarre brand of subtle, offbeat humor that makes a story about the loss of a parent strangely palatable. The film emphasizes the absolute nightmare of grief by weaving a narrative that is gory, stylish, and funny.  

When the Creature is missing a good arm to swing an axe, Lisa is adept at helping him find the perfect donor. They kill together (so romantic) and each is made whole in their own way.  

But Lisa’s rebirth is blood-soaked. Tainted. Perhaps if people had listened, given her space to grieve and not expected her to look and act a certain way, she wouldn’t have been forced into corpse play.  

We’re here for the blood spatter, though. 

This is where Cody’s writing truly shines. We feel terribly sorry for Lisa but also root for her to help axe some assholes. Frankly, it’s fun to watch and we see how it’s bringing her back to life. In all the bloodshed, there is a higher calling. 

Murder can’t be that bad. Not when stylishly done in a black lace dress with perfectly teased hair. Crank the REO Speedwagon and deliver those severed body parts with some Madonna-witchy-chic and we get it. We love it. We’re good. A few dead bodies are a small price to pay for the confidence to wear a truly great outfit to school. 

Why not be the monster everyone sees? Lisa might be the opposite of the happy neon unicorn on a Lisa Frank trapper keeper but at least she is loved and, in her own twisted way, free.