After rejecting the none-too-subtle advances of local bully Jessica Huckins (Carmen Aniello), shy, bookish Lisa (Kristen Vaganos) decides to go to the local Sheriff’s department to report what happened. Probably not the greatest of ideas, as the Sheriff is Jessica’s mother Deb (Manon Halliburton) and the Huckins clan are none too keen on having their authority questioned by outsiders.
After being viciously assaulted, Lisa is driven out to the woods and dumped there for the local wolves to feed on her. One does attack but Lisa manages to fend it off before blacking out and waking up in the cabin of kindly local Mary (Cinnamon Schultz).
Recovering rapidly from her wounds and her wolf bite, Lisa suddenly discovers she has strength and powers far beyond her imagination. Can Lisa retain enough of her humanity while using the vulpine side of her personality to hit the revenge trail?
With a titular nod to Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend and the inclusion of its 1964 movie adaptation The Last Man On Earth during a sequence in a cinema, Patrick Rea’s film flips the script by having the monster go up against the humans (although you can view Vincent Price as the monster in the aforementioned movie if you wish).
The attack on Lisa is effectively, shockingly staged, focusing less on the physical violence and more on a close-up of Lisa’s face which makes what’s happening out of shot all the more horrible. The subsequent instruction to Sheriff’s Deputy Nick, also a Huckins, to “finish the lesson” to be taught to Lisa out in the woods is extremely chilling and also wisely left to the imagination.
Interestingly, the first target of Lisa’s ensuing pursuit of those who wronged her is the one person who didn’t directly take part in the assault but was witnessing the hideous events at the time. “I didn’t do anything,” they plead. “Exactly,” replies Lisa, before giving them a serious chiropractic adjustment. By not stepping in and attempting to stop what was happening, that character was just as culpable as the others but in other, similar tales they may have been spared. Not so here.
In the lead, Kristen Vaganos handles the transformation from wallflower to wolf extremely well and she convinces as both the confrontation wary Lisa of the first act and the wisecracking, throat-slashing killing machine of the third. Even when she’s giving in to her psychotic urges, you still side with her because, even as a bloodthirsty werewolf/human hybrid, she’s just so damned likeable.
The same can be said of Jennifer Seward, who plays voice of reason and Lisa’s best friend Sam. The quieter scenes with Seward and Vaganos, as they discuss the ramifications of Lisa’s building bloodlust, are just as engaging as the bursts of raging retribution. Their easy-going chemistry further elevates what’s already a winningly scripted view of Lisa and Sam’s closeness.
As for the bad guys, they’re very, very bad indeed. Some of them might wear badges, but they’re a law unto themselves. They deal drugs. Their view on prostitution in the town is that it’s okay as long as the boorish, obnoxious Nick gets a free taste of the merchandise first. They’ll kill anyone who gets in their way, or indeed anyone who doesn’t get in their way but doesn’t want to date Jessica.
The Huckins folk are given the odd glint of humanity but in the main they’re just asking to be lycanthrope fodder. The performances aren’t of the pop-eyed psycho variety, though. Aniello resists the OTT approach as Jessica, tempering her outward menace with a hint of insecurity. Her complete ignorance of the irony when she threatens to burn a copy of Fahrenheit 451 is a delight and she plays off Vaganos brilliantly in that sequence.
Halliburton takes a similar, even more downplayed tack as Sheriff Deb. She’s evil, that’s for certain, but her lines are delivered with a detached, icy calm and a total disdain for anyone who isn’t family. I felt she’d be more than a match for anything, even a thing with supernatural powers, which gives an edge to the inevitable showdown between Deb and Lisa, a showdown which doesn’t go down quite how I’d expected.
Given how brutally straight the set-up of I Am Lisa is played, more humorous elements come into play as the story progresses. It doesn’t ever come close to out and out comedy and the very few chuckles are tinged with their own shade of dark but I’m not totally sure I wanted any levity in this one, which probably says much more about me than the film. The choice doesn’t make the finished product in any way worse; I just wanted my revenge served as ice cold as possible.
That said, there are savage kills to be savoured, served up with a satisfying amount of gore. It’s refreshing to see a female-driven revenge story where the only guys in the piece are a) supporting players and b) relegated to being disposable, lunk-headed creeps in service to the stronger women around them. The sisters really are doing it for themselves on screen in this one, and they’re doing a rather good job.
I Am Lisa is a first-rate, distinctive take on the werewolf movie with a particularly fine turn from Kristen Vaganos, who impresses in both bashful and beast modes. Horror fans will, ahem, wolf this one down.
Read Five FrightFest Facts From Patrick Rea director of I am Lisa HERE