I Am Lisa, 2020.
Directed by Patrick Rea.
Starring Kristen Vaganos, Jennifer Seward, Manon Halliburton, and Carmen Anello.
A sadistic, small-town sheriff and her underlings brutalise Lisa and leave her for dead in the woods. Bitten by a werewolf and bestowed with supernatural abilities, can Lisa retain her humanity as she exacts revenge?
Patrick Rea’s I Am Lisa plays like an homage to socially-minded John Carpenter horrors of decades past while making a laudable attempt to drag such fare into the 21st century with a distinctly contemporary female empowerment through-line.
Book store employee Lisa (Kristen Vaganos) finds herself harassed by local Sheriff Deborah Huckins (Manon Halliburton), eventually leading to a fateful attack in which Lisa is left for dead in the woods. However, Lisa is soon preyed upon and bitten by a wolf, which ends up turning her into a werewolf. As Lisa’s blood-lust begins to take hold, she must consider whether or not to take violent revenge against Huckins and her pals, and just what the cost might really be.
As easy as it is to sniff at a female-led revenge film written and directed by two men in this climate, Rea’s film is a visceral – if undeniably uneven – attempt to offer up a horror film that’s at once unsettling in its realness and still serves as slushy entertainment.
Sure, the dialogue often smacks of a student film with its clunky exposition and affected witticisms, and some of its aspersions re: the #MeToo movement are more than a little on the nose, but Rea finds a comfortable groove by the end of act one where he focuses on his traumatised protagonist’s grim journey for vengeance.
This change-over is punctuated by an extremely unpleasant attack sequence, which while relatively brief and not particularly explicit absolutely feels real thanks to both Rea’s intrusive camera coverage and Vaganos’ exceptional performance. Though the script briefly raises the concept of Lisa’s friends disbelieving her attack due to her new abilities causing the wounds to quickly heal, this is disappointingly only a fleeting portion of the movie rather than an attempt to pass comment on present social issues ala the recent The Invisible Man remake.
Despite the effectiveness of its depiction of abuse, there is however a sure clash between the light and dark in Eric Winkler’s script, which attempts to collide searing rape-revenge with a more frothy story of self-actualisation. Intense mood whiplash abounds, for instance, when Lisa metes out stomach-churning revenge against one of her attackers, only for an off-colour joke to be cracked about it seconds later; it just doesn’t quite fit.
Indeed, I Am Lisa sometimes ends up coming off goofier than it clearly intends to; the werewolf transformation – defined best by cravings for raw supermarket meat – are totally stock, or in the case of Lisa’s desire for dog biscuits, a little too daft for the movie’s own good.
Unintentional comedy also abounds with some of the stilted dialogue and performances in the supporting cast, whereby character reactions come off as guffaw-inducingly inauthentic (especially in the case of Lisa’s friend Sam [Jennifer Seward] learning of Lisa’s first kill).
And yet, Rea smartly hangs his film’s success on a duo of outstanding central performances. Kristen Vaganos makes Lisa an effortlessly likeable lead who is easy to cheer on throughout her revenge parable, conveying the post-assault fear and anxiety exceptionally well. As the primary antagonist Sheriff Huckins, Manon Halliburton is deliciously detestable, even accepting some of her character’s more questionable logical choices later on.
These two performances make it easy to forgive the tonal issues and a few groan-worthy moments, because the pitting of Lisa against Huckins makes for such a compelling sit, no matter how little it veers from the revenge movie schematic.
Though clearly produced on a low budget, Rea knows where to put a camera in order to generate a strong gut reaction, aided by Hanuman Brown-Eagle’s capable lensing, and Natalia Perez’s moody synth score.
While not doing much to innovate either the revenge or werewolf movies, I Am Lisa is held aloft by captivating performances from its heroine and villain.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.