Fantasy/revenge horror with teeth about women and power in small-town America. Directed by Patrick Rea.
I Am Lisa is a film about small-town bullies and a victim who pushes back… after being bitten by a wolf. Lisa (Kristen Vaganos) is an unassuming young woman who has come back to town to manage the bookshop her grandmother recently left. Harassed by Jessica and her mates (who I suspect Lisa knew from school), she complains to Sheriff Huckins, despite knowing that the sheriff is Jessica’s mother, but not knowing that the Huckins family has a couple of unsavory side interests. Beaten up and left for the wolves in the nearby forest, Lisa comes back stronger and angry.
I Am Lisa has been described as “I Spit on Your Grave meets Ginger Snaps”, which is about right in terms of the essential story, but not quite the style. We don’t see anything quite as brutal here as we did in I Spit on Your Grave, and there isn’t quite as big a werewolf element here as in Ginger Snaps. This is about a town run by the bad guys, and in which there aren’t enough good guys: this dynamic which fuels the story, with the local wildlife forming its scenery. I Am Lisa also isn’t quite as heavy as either of the other two films: it is a light-to-medium-weight fun fantasy horror, with rock chicks, a few fights, a bit of gore and lots of snarling.
The characters are somewhat two-dimensional, well-drawn enough to make them all engaging; and their cast are well suited to the roles too. In the good guys’ corner, we have Lisa herself and her best friend Samantha (Jennifer Lauren Seward); as well as Mary (Cinnamon Schultz), playing a woodcutter role, in Little Red Riding Hood terms. Lisa needs their grounding support – one who knows what’s going on as she changes, and one who doesn’t – but can they hold her back from taking revenge? Vaganos herself (who also choreographed the stunt fights) is perfect as Lisa, believable as shopkeeper, victim, and altered alike.
There’s a little more nuance to the bad guys. The Huckins family all enjoy misusing power (the sheriff’s son is a deputy with illegal side hustles too), though I do wonder why they selected Lisa particularly. There’s an interesting couple of scenes where Jessica (Carmen Anello) and Lisa are alone and it seems Jessica may not know how to handle some sexual attraction. One of her gang is even almost apologetic towards Lisa about their initial harassment. See, this isn’t a film which presents a clear black and white picture, a point made sharper as the revenge progresses.
My favorite character, though, is definitely a love-to-hate straightforward, sneering baddie: Sheriff Deborah ‘Deb’ Huckins, played with beautiful menace by Manon Halliburton. Yes, the vast majority of characters here are female, with just a couple of minor characters who are not. Whether wielding guns, claws, or a walkie-talkie, this is clearly a woman’s town. I wouldn’t have known from watching that it was written and directed by men, though: the style and characters could have just as easily come from the Soska Sisters. It’s tightly written by Eric Winkler and directed with pace and tension by Patrick Rea, who makes good use of limited resources.
It is good to see another werewolf film (there don’t seem to be many in recent years), but I should warn you if that’s what you are looking for, you might be a little disappointed. There is a wolf or two, but there is no great transformation scene; the closest Lisa gets is a scrunched face like Buffy-style vampires, with very fake fangs and claws. Not seeing her fully transformed is a bit of a tease, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the film overall.
I Am Lisa can offer you a fun evening in front of the screen, or perhaps some catharsis for anyone being picked on. Grab a beer and some plastic fangs and enjoy the fairy tale.
This review was filed from FrightFest 2020. You can check our full coverage of the festival by clicking these words.
Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.