Content warnings: Violence, sexual assault.
I Am Lisa is a film that weaves together lycanthropic and revenge-based horror into something that is a refreshing take on both genres. Written by Eric Winkler and directed by Patrick Rea, it made its world premiere at Fright Fest 2020 on August 28th, and for me it was the first watch of the festival.
In it we follow Lisa (Kristen Vaganos), who has recently moved back to her hometown after getting a degree abroad, she came back because her grandmother recently passed away and is working at the used bookstore that was left to her. After being harassed and sexually assaulted by Jessica (Carmen Anello) Lisa goes to the police to report it, but instead of doing something about it the corrupt Sheriff (Manon Halliburton) and her deputies facilitate and take part in a brutal attack on her. Lisa is left for dead in the nearby woods, and there she is bitten by a werewolf and bestowed with supernatural abilities.
The question becomes, can Lisa retain her humanity as she exacts her revenge, or will she cede herself completely to the wolf side of her personality?
Not only does Lisa have the same grungy style as me, she also works in a used book shop and likes reading, and she even enjoys eating ‘special cookies’ and watching horror movies with her best friend. So she was immediately relatable, but as someone that was bullied a lot and purposefully escaped their hometown, her story resonated with me on a much deeper level than I was expecting it to.
Most rape-revenge films center around women’s stories, but that’s rarely the case when it comes to werewolf movies, which so often are about men trying to fight their animalistic nature. I Am Lisa is about a woman trying to hold on to her humanity as she deals with her trauma and her need for revenge. She isn’t a wild animal attacking people at random, she wants justice and the only way to get it is by doing it herself, since the very people who brutalized her are the one’s responsible for protecting their town.
This was made on a very low budget and for the most part it’s unnoticeable, but there were a few times when the fight scenes felt a little clumsy, and I found myself wishing that the vengeance part of it would go a little bit further. The most brutal part of this was definitely the assault on Lisa, which was unfortunate, because for a revenge film to feel truly satisfying to me their comeuppance has to be just as vicious as the attack in order for it to feel truly cathartic.
But it was easy to look beyond that because of Vaganos’s heartfelt performance as Lisa, and the friendship between her and Sam (Jennifer Seward) which was incredibly tender and authentic. After the attack there is a particularly touching scene between the two of them as Sam tells her that “they didn’t take everything. You’re still alive.” Lisa responds by saying, “They did take everything. I’ll never feel whole again.” And Sam says, “You’re still here.”
This moment is something that stood out to me the most, as someone who has felt this way It’s important to have someone there to remind you that you are still there, and that you’re still you.
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.