02nd Sep2020

Frightfest 2020: ‘I Am Lisa’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Kristen Vaganos, Jennifer Seward, Manon Halliburton, Carmen Anello, Chris Bylsma, Cinnamon Schultz | Written by Eric Winkler | Directed by Patrick Rea

Part werewolf movie, part female revenge flick, entertaining small town horror I Am Lisa does a decent job of genre blending, thanks to a smart script and savvy direction from Patrick Rea.

Kristen Vaganos stars as Lisa Leroux, a bespectacled university graduate who’s returned to her small home town of Northbrook in order to run the second hand book store she’s inherited from her grandmother. Unfortunately, Lisa quickly runs foul of local mean bully Jessica Huckins (Carmen Anello), who’s basically untouchable because her mother, Deb (Manon Halliburton) is the corrupt local Sheriff.

Things quickly gets worse for Lisa when she tries to report Jessica for assault and ends up getting beaten and left for dead in the forest by Deb and her deputy son, Nick (Chris Bylsma). However, after Lisa is bitten by a werewolf, she gains special powers, which she uses to gain violent and bloody revenge on her tormentors, in time-honoured fashion.

The specific genre blend works surprisingly well, since the gradual creature transformation ties in perfectly with the general theme of the loss of humanity that’s common to the revenge movie genre. That’s underscored by some decent make-up work, making Lisa look positively evil in her lycanthropic form, with glowing yellow eyes. (Nothing good ever had glowing yellow eyes).

I Am Lisa has echoes of Ginger Snaps, in that Lisa gains real power when she becomes a werewolf – the idea of “the worm turns” is a common trope in revenge movies and it gets a good outing here. However, the film stops short of pushing the comparisons too far – it flirts with doing something interesting in regard to sexuality (it’s established that part of Jessica’s hatred for Lisa stems from her confusing attraction to her), but ultimately bottles out of it with regard to whether or not Lisa has complex reciprocal feelings.

The characters are nicely drawn throughout and brought to life with strong performances, particularly from Manon Halliburton as the straight up evil Sheriff – it’s also fun to see the main villain be a middle-aged woman for a change. Similarly, Vaganos makes a terrific lead, convincingly portraying different versions of Lisa in the various stages of her transformation.

I Am Lisa also benefits from its depiction of the small town and its local secrets. In fact, it could easily be the pilot for a TV series, with a whole load of werewolf mythology just waiting to be explained. Indeed, it’s clear that the filmmakers have aspirations toward a sequel at the very least, given the various elements that go unexplained and unexplored here (principally Shawn Eric Jones as Dolphus, a sort of wolf-man hybrid in thrall to the Sheriff).

As well as doing a good job of genre blending, the script – by Eric Winkler – has a handful of good lines, and adds a couple of nice touches, such as the way Lisa’s best friend Sam (Jennifer Seward) tries to throw the Sheriff off the scent when they suspect she might still be alive. There are some nice genre-savvy moments too, such as Lisa boning up on her new powers by watching (and enjoying) werewolf movies.

In fairness, I Am Lisa isn’t entirely without flaws. For one thing, although there is a certain amount of mild gore (gushing neck wounds, that sort of thing), there’s precious little imagination in the kills and Rea’s direction never quite establishes the right tone for them. Similarly, the lycanthropy stuff might disappoint hardcore werewolf watchers – there’s no traditional wolf make-up and the transformation only extends to yellow eyes, some cheap-looking fangs and a bit of bulky forehead make-up, like in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Still, those are minor quibbles that don’t diminish the enjoyment of what is ultimately an entertaining werewolf revenge picture. You’d definitely watch I Am Lisa if it did end up as a TV show, let’s put it that way.

*** 3/5

I Am Lisa screened on Friday August 28th as part of this years Frightfest Digital Edition.

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