‘They thought they killed her. She’ll make them wish they had.’
I Am Lisa is a 2020 American horror feature film about a young woman who is brutalised and then bitten by a werewolf.
Directed by Patrick Rea (Arbor Demon; Nailbiter) from a screenplay written by Eric Winkler based on his 2018 short Inhumane, the Feed the Queen production stars Kristen Vaganos, Jennifer Seward, Manon Halliburton and Carmen Anello.
Sadistic small-town Sheriff Deborah ‘Deb’ Huckins (Manon Halliburton) and her underlings brutalise a young woman named Lisa (Kristen Vaganos) 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?
I Am Lisa is a supernatural revenge-thriller strewn with mild gender twists and the minor novelty of lycanthropy as its vehicle for vengeance.
Alternative-type young Lisa (Kristen Vaganos, who also choreographed her own fight scenes), despite a fancy far-off university degree, has returned to her American small town to operate a cluttered bookshop she inherited from her late grandmother.
Among old enemies who torment Lisa is bully Jessica (Carmen Anello) and her entourage. Jessica is the daughter of the wicked local lady Sheriff Deb (Manon Halliburton, in Linda Hunt-esque mode), and when Lisa tries to confront Deb about all the misbehaviour the woman-of-the-law instead has Lisa beaten and tortured in a cell, then taken to the woods and left to be eaten by wolves (this seems to be a regional tradition).
Instead, an ill-glimpsed wolf bites Lisa, who is taken in by a mystery forest-dweller (Cinnamon Shultz) to recover. Gradually, in a right-out-of-Marvel-Comics superhero origin story – that is not really a compliment, you must know – Lisa gains the strength, resilience and appetites of a werewolf (forsaking her longtime vegetarianism, for one thing). Hiding out with a best friend, she begins killing off her foes. Who are, after all, no respecters of cluttered book shops.
The flip-the-paradigm gambit that is supposed to translate as “empowerment” has the banal, stock male roles in stuff like this (the Touch of Evil-like town sheriff, the sloppy rednecks and roadhouse roughnecks, a local mechanic) portrayed by young, good-looking, immodestly clothed, gym-toned females of the Mean Girls variety – perfectly ethnically mixed, by the way; gotta win those “inclusivity” points. It’s a little different, but only for a short while.
Same applies to the conceit of modern small-town America as a kind of hillbilly Transylvania where paranormal werewolves are just an accepted fact of life among the lowlifes. But be warned that makeup F/X are more vampire-ish than lupine (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, at that), the mythology here conveniently telling us that only a few werewolves go the full-on expensive transformation route.
While there are a number of inside jokes – the movie poster from helmer Patrick Rea’s previous Arbor Demon (2016), guest clips from public-domain horror-film sources such as The Last Man on Earth (1964) and The Werewolf of Washington (1973), the low-budget independent-production ensemble of I Am Lisa play it straight and irony-free. The urge to have gone full-on Troma live-action-cartoon gore-slapstick could have been tempting indeed, one imagines. For some viewers, this deadpan quality makes genre material of this nature even more enthralling. For the rest of us, well… I personally will stand up for the underrated Werewolf of Washington.
Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES and MANIA
“I Am Lisa is not the fast-paced thriller I’d expected it to be, and it lacked the violence I wanted from a revenge film, but it surprised me with the touching story about the effects of trauma and the use of lycanthropy to empower someone that had been made to feel small and helpless.” B-Roll Banshee
“Very low budget, I Am Lisa can be forgiven for much of its avoidance of practical effects and even some acting moments. While the werewolf mythology is totally striking, it never quite hits into overdrive like it should. And post-assault, Lisa wrestles with taking the moral high ground, and it becomes tedious, treading water even until she realizes exacting revenge is her only option.” B-Sides and Badlands
“I Am Lisa falters in that it’s hard to know if we’re meant to take this seriously or as a big goof. Most of the film is played straight (too straight, given the silliness of the premise and lack of psychological realism). But then there are moments of deliberate humor (Lisa mesmerized by an array of fresh meat at the local grocery).” Butler’s Cinema Scene
“I Am Lisa is a slow-ish burn that works as it builds characters and a situation that leads to a place that is actually interesting. The story has ideas that work throughout and the way things are handled and developed are part of why this one works […] The acting by lead actress Vaganos is something that not only sells the story and its horror but also brings the viewer in so that they can be truly invested by the time the film gets to its main point.” Cinema Crazed
“With so many werewolf films out there, it’s nice to find one that genuinely has something new to say. With a strong performance from Kristen Vaganos and impressive direction from Patrick Rea, it’s a solid genre hybrid that shows there’s still life left in both the revenge and the werewolf tropes.” Entertainment Focus
“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
“A werewolf story told within the parameters of a rape/revenge story makes for an interesting premise, but I am Lisa fails to capitalise on the potential. Rea’s vision seems less realised than his previous offering Enclosure, but still manages to create atmosphere and drama, just at a slower pace.” The Hollywood News
“I Am Lisa is a werewolf picture where, despite the cripplingly low budget, Rea’s recurring themes of the weirdness in landscape and the blurring by the supernatural of the line between civilisation and the wild still manage to shine through. The werewolf transformation is minimal, using fangs, contacts and fingernails, but Rea makes this work in the film’s favour, crafting a film that suggests the supernatural ‘out there’ may not be so different from what we believe to be normal.” House of Mortal Cinema
” …I Am Lisa is missing the viciousness it needs to sell Lisa’s anger. Major applause to Lisa for taking control of her sexuality and using it against Jessica—as Jessica does to her earlier—but overall I Am Lisa is about as fierce of a movie as a wolf with its tail between its legs.” Killer Horror Critic
“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.” The Kim Newman Web Site
“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.” Ready Steady Cut!
“Eric Winkler’s script provides some really evil characters, only just stopping short at pantomime level, and Rea’s direction gives us enough to be horrified about without going over the top with showing us (particularly in a nasty scene involving the sheriff’s deputy), which we’re thankful for. While it might not be the hairy wolf we’re used to, I Am Lisa has plenty of bite and will resonate with much of its audience.” Starburst
“Viewers may at times have difficulty determining the workings of the film’s werewolf mythology, and the precise role that the Huckins family is playing in it (with Sheriff Deb the cartoonishly dark reverse of her sister Mary, played by Cinnamon Schultz). But in a sense that does not matter. Here, lycanthropy serves as a broad metaphor for Lisa’s emergence from put-upon victim to assertive fighter, in a smalltown worm-that-turned narrative.” VODzilla
I Am Lisa had its world premiere at the 2020 virtual Arrow Video FrightFest on August 28th. It was released in the USA on October 9, 2020.
Cast and characters:
Kristen Vaganos … Lisa
Jennifer Seward … Sam
Manon Halliburton … Sheriff Deborah ‘Deb’ Huckins
Carmen Anello … Jessica Huckins
Chris Bylsma … Deputy Nick Huckins
Cinnamon Schultz … Mary
Sarah McGuire … Dana
Millie Milan … Millie
Shawn Eric Jones … Dolphus
Brooklyn Funk … Brooke
Owen Winkler … Bicycle Boy
Katrina Ann Volonnino … Tammy
Nicole Hall … Emma
Andy Penn … Jerry
Aimee Lynn … Gretchen Glendon
Aspect ratio: 2.35: 1
MOVIES and MANIA rating: