The latest entry in the subgenre of young women finding power as werewolves is I Am Lisa, a film that follows such entries as Canada’s Ginger Snaps (2000) and the Danish/French coproduction When Animals Dream (2014). Prolific director Patrick Rea’s (Arbor Demon ; Nailbiter ) latest feature, I Am Lisa combines a powerful revenge story and solid performances.
Lisa (Kristen Vaganos of Mommy Would Never Hurt You ) returns to the small town where she grew up after her grandmother passes away. Inheriting her grandmother’s house and used bookstore, she sets aside the life she planned after graduating from university abroad to take care of those two places. There are many things Lisa didn’t miss about her old town, including the bullying Jessica Huckins (Carmen Anello of Exposure ) and her lackeys.
When Jessica steals a rare first edition from the store and later comes on to and assaults Lisa, Lisa reports the incidents to the town sheriff — which does no good, as the sadistic Sheriff Deborah Huckins (Manon Halliburton) happens to be Jessica’s mother, and the only other law officer in town is Jessica’s brother Deputy Nick Huckins (Chris Bylsma), who is as corrupt and evil as the rest of the family. Deborah orders the others to harm Lisa and leave her for dead in the woods so that the local wolves can enjoy some live game.
The wolf that bites Lisa is no ordinary wolf, though, and surviving the attack unbeknownst to the Huckins clan, Lisa begins to feel strangely and starts craving raw meat as she hides out at the home of her longtime best friend Sam (Jennifer Seward of American Maniacs  and the upcoming The Stylist). She devises a plan to take revenge on her attackers as her werewolf powers begin to take hold — and it isn’t even the full moon yet.
Eric Winkler’s screenplay follows familiar beats of classic revenge cinema and coming-of-age, teen-girl-into-werewolf movies, with the different take that Lisa is an adult, coming at her conflict between using her newfound supernatural powers to take revenge from a slightly more mature — and methodical — mindset. The Huckins clan members also follow villain tropes, but strengths in the screenplay include the realistic dialogue between the conscientious Sam and the empowered Lisa, and Lisa’s character arc.
The game cast members give it their all, with Vaganos wonderfully hitting all the right notes as her Lisa goes through myriad emotions. Halliburton does a great job of investing her character with an evil nastiness without going over the top. Seward is also fine as the caring Sam, and among the other impressive supporting performances, Cinnamon Schultz (Winter’s Bone ) stands out as a bookstore customer who is also harassed by Jessica and her gang.
Rea is a skillful director who works across many different genres in film and television, but who is best known to Gruesome Magazine readers for his fright-fare features and short films. His knowledge of, and passion for, horror cinema shines in I Am Lisa, and he helms the film strikingly, handling the dramatic tension as strongly as he does the suspenseful scenes and horror set pieces. Regarding the latter, the practical effects work is impressive, and the kills grue-filled except when Rea occasionally and wisely chooses to let viewers’ imaginations run with what is happening offscreen.
Much more than a standard creature feature, I Am Lisa boasts a strong female protagonist with a story driven largely by female characters, and the women playing those roles all turn in admirable performances. Combine that with plenty of revenge attack set pieces and crackerjack direction, and you have the winning combination that is I Am Lisa.
I Am Lisa screened as part of Arrow Video FrightFest’s 2020 digital edition, which runs from August 28–31.(4 / 5)