Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – I Am Lisa

My notes on I Am Lisa

The high concept here is I Spit On Your Grave mashed up with Ginger Snaps.  Shy, bespectacled Lisa (Kristen Vaganos) returns to the small town where she grew up in order to take over her grandmother’s second hand book shop.  She falls foul of a gang of small town thugs who are untouchable because their boss is Sheriff Deb Huckins (Manon Halliburton), mother of principle mean girl/drug dealer Jessica (Carmen Anello) and corrupt, lecherous Deputy Nick (Chris Bylsma).  The feud escalates and Lisa is roughed up, raped (by Nick, against Jessica’s wishes) and dumped in the woods as food for wolves … only to survive being bitten by the local feral wolfblood Dolphus (Shawn Eric Jones) and nursed back to health by a mystery woman in the woods (Cinnamon Schultz).  Lisa returns to town as a clear-sighted, confident, fanged and taloned werewolf who sets out to get even with the villains one at a time – assisted by her best friend Sam (Jennifer Seward), who’s savvy enough to file a missing persons report so the Sheriff has to take steps to cover up a murder that wasn’t successfully completed.

The initial mistreatment is unpleasant, escalating from bullying to much worse, but we don’t get the prolonged abuse/humiliation scenes that often make versions of this story a miserable watch.  There’s an interesting range of motivations among the villains (including the tagalong who doesn’t take part but also doesn’t do anything to stop it) and heroes (there’s a lot going on in the woods that relates to the set-up in town) – so it’s less clear-cut than most ‘turning worm’ revenge movies.  Vaganos gets the obviously chewiest role, and does well by her initial, appealing persona then does the full gamut of make-up makeover as the sleek, sexy killer beastess.  Screenwriter Eric Winkler and director Patrick Rea tell this particular story well, but establish a larger world and mythology – the Sheriff isn’t completely unfamiliar with what she’s up against, as set up by a prologue and hinted by a silver branding iron that’s handy in the jail – which could easily be developed in follow-ups.

The title insists on the heroine’s identity and primacy, but over the course of the film she gets to be several Lisas – and there’s an implication that even as an empowered lycanthrope her individuality is under threat since there’s that scarred alpha out there as intent on impressing her into a wolfpack as Jessica – who starts picking on Lisa because she’s attracted to her – is on adding her to the mean girl posse.  The wolfy stuff isn’t as special effects heavy as recent films like the Wolfcop duo or Late Phases, so that Vaganos is always readable as Lisa even under latex, fur and wolf-eye lenses.  Note also the nice range of weathered backwoods-type faces – Sarah McGuire, especially, has a tough girl look that’s unglamorised by credible, and Halliburton is an unusual middle-aged woman Big Bad With a Badge.

Here’s the FrightFest listing.


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