Darke Reviews | I am Lisa (2020)


The Vampire Princess also dips her toes into the werewolf genre from time to time and have a fair to middling collection of werewolf movies growing upon my shelves. I came across the trailer to this one just the other day while randomly going through YouTube.

Now, in the genre of werewolves, we don’t get a lot of female ones. Now combining Lady Werewolves and Revenge fantasy? I cannot think of a single film in my collection, or that I’ve ever seen, that meets that criteria. Even GingerSnaps, one of the iconic werewolf movie of this century doesn’t hit that combo really, then add the fact its a purely indie affair? We might have something?

But does I am Lisa have a bite?

Let’s begin with the basics as always and that starts with the story by Eric Winkler. This appears to be his first foray into theatrical releases as he expands his short film “Inhumane” from 2018 into feature length. I am not going to lie, as a victim of bullying through high school and growing up in a small town not too unlike the one portrayed here, the first 30 minutes of the movie are hard to watch. Winkler does a pretty solid job of establishing who Lisa is and what she’s about and who our bad guys are in the film. He does a really good job on that front. There would be some who say they are a bit two dimensional bullies, but when I consider my reaction to the bullies from It Chapter 1 vs this – the difference is visceral. It honestly put me around the same level as the opening death in It Chapter 2. Going further, by the mid part of Act II they did remember to get some comedy beats in here to lighten an otherwise dark mood. The story has continuity down and is better than most on that front and I am including a lot of bigger budget films in there too. The change in Lisa as written is good and I love me a slow transition from human to…well…”monster”. Though as written she is the least monstrous thing in the movie.

Director Patrick Rea, who has a significant list of shorts but sadly nothing I recognize to call out, does a pretty good job with the performances and shots as well. While the movies budget shows it’s low budget at times, I have watched far far too many low budget vampire movies to not see it. What he and the team here remembered to do is have good sound quality. Nothing if not nothing can ruin a low budget film than poor sound. Rea also makes sure that those who are good are shot that way and those who are vile are as well. Pretty sure his limiting factors might be locations and the tech he has to work with. I want to see more work from Rea in the genre with more money to work with and we’re really only talking some finer touches to be able to provide solid films and give him the room to stretch his wings a bit more. 

From an acting standpoint Kristen Vaganos is our titular character, Lisa. A solid list of shorts and series precede her entry here and most of them are in the horror genre. I would be happy to see her in some larger productions as she does have the chops to go through the number of emotions she’s forced to go through. She navigates the transitions of the character very well and manages charisma the entire time – Hollywood needs more of that vs a lot of the vapid hollow performances we tend to get. Manon Halliburton, who has had a bunch of small roles in TV gets to be our big bad as Sheriff “Deb” Huckins. She is uncomfortably good in the slow drawl, corrupt small town sheriff. I swear she’s refined every stereotype and removed the worst elements of it to give us a painful villain to see in 2020. The rest of her crew, the Deputy son, twisted daughter, and their friends, are equally vile and complicit; but lets face it few times do the followers overshadow the villain.

From a practical standpoint, as the movie doesn’t have a lot of budget to work with. They go basic. Basic is good. Some overlarge contacts, some nail prosthetics, teeth and you’re in good shape if your framing and lighting is right – which it was. The gore and blood make ups are good, but won’t satisfy absolute gorehounds – sorry you fiends. I also have to commend both the score and soundtrack. So many films forget to actually do right by those but this one was up there with what I think films like this should be. I actually kind of want to get my hands on it.

TL;DR?

I don’t like renting movies anymore. I haven’t since the Blockbuster near me closed a decade ago. I either buy it or I don’t, but I made an exception here and paid to rent it from the local Kansas movie theatre that was allowing it. I am glad I got this one. It’s biggest weakness is its budget. The actors, writer, and director did everything they could within it and pushed it to the limits they had while maintaining good quality through out. The parts with the villains are almost too hard to watch for me and I can’t say their deaths are as satisfying as I would want them to be, save one maybe, but beyond that it holds up.

I don’t know that it’s quite at Ginger Snaps or Dog Soldiers, but this is a tight little werewolf movie. Significantly better than something like Wolves which had a higher budget, maybe closer to Late Phases or When Animals Dream. The main character is solid, the story moves forward at a brisk enough pace and I don’t know where I’d make editing changes. There’s a handful of scenes you could shoot or light differently and of course some extra gore – but for my money I enjoyed the 90 minutes I spent with Lisa and look to do so again. I mean I love movies with a happy ending like this gave me – by my definition of happy! 

Should I watch it?

If you like your werewolves, revenge, and Indy? Yeah. I will forgive flaws in a low budget passion project where I can tell people cared far more than I will in a big budget or even midbudget movie thats paint by numbers where I can tell folks are going through the motions. It won’t satisfy the gorehounds as I mentioned above, but Werewolf lovers should enjoy this. I know I did.

Would you watch it again?

I have two more days on my rental, yes. I will. Might skip some of the beats I found uncomfortable though. Bearing in mind thats personal discomfort because I’ve been on the receiving end of some of that – it was acted well enough that I felt it.

Would you buy it?

Yeah, I think I will. I’d prefer a BluRay + Digital, but odds are good there won’t be a print release here so will be looking for it to appear on Amazon or VUDU and happily adding it to the collection.

EDIT: I stand corrected. Someone reached out to me and informed me we will be getting a BluRay early next year with commentary track by Patrick Rea, Eric Winkler, and Kristen Vaganos! Well I am excited.

Anything else?

We cannot as an audience complain about a lack of originality when there are films like this that come out and go unrecognized, unheard, and unseen. 

So with that I leave you a link to rent it yourself if you are so inclined to support a small production. I am glad I did.

https://mutinypictures.vhx.tv/

Also while I enjoy the art for this post, their other poster is wicked!

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