I Am Lisa
Horror/thriller, 1 h 32 min
Small town bullies and their sadistic sheriff pick on the wrong girl when timid Lisa bites back.
“It’s actually nigh impossible to make a werewolf sexy and this is the wonderful secret ingredient of female werewolf films.”
Lesbian Visibility Day is almost upon us and what better way to celebrate than with a wlw female-led horror?! Even better, we’re in the sweet spot of the every-few-years werewolf horror resurgence – call that full moon rising. I unequivocally love a werewolf horror and I would personally take a bullet for any female werewolf, purely because they are as rare as, well, an actual werewolf. We can only assume this lack of werewolf women is because it’s actually nigh impossible to make a werewolf sexy and this is the wonderful secret ingredient of female werewolf films; gone is the ever present male gaze through which women are viewed in the vast majority of horrors even in the modern day. We don’t have to endure endless tracking shots of a woman being hacked apart by the male serial killer of the week while moaning and dying *sensually*. It’s the time of the beast and the beast in Patrick Rea’s I Am Lisa is in particular mad as hell.
The beast in question is the eponymous Lisa (Kristen Vaganos). She’s returned to small town living to take over the used bookstore her recently passed grandma has left her. Lisa’s attempt to break free of the born in your small town, die in your small town tradition is not appreciated by resident big fish in the small pond, Jessica (Carmen Anello) and cronies Dana (Sarah McGuire) and Millie (Millie Milan), who regularly harass Lisa. Unfortunately for Lisa, Jessica’s mum (Manon Halliburton) is the town sheriff, and she is apparently where Jessica got her passion for the sadistic from. Lisa’s only allies seem to be her long time friend Sam (Jennifer Seward) and Mary (Cinnamon Schultz), the Sheriff’s sister and evidently the only nice person in that family. Things take a turn for the south when Lisa finally goes to report Jessica for harassing her to the Sheriff and is basically told to get Jessica’s name out of her mouth or she’ll be locked up. Unfortunately, it’s already too late for poor Lisa; she is violently beaten by Jessica, cronies and Jessica’s brother, Nick (Chris Bylsma). They drive her out to the woods where Nick sexually assaults her and leaves her for the wolves.
The wolves do indeed come and Lisa manages to fight them off by bashing one in the head with a rock, but not before it manages to sink its teeth into her leg. It’s a particularly poignant moment in the film and one that I found especially compelling because it represents the intersection of the supernatural horrors which we as a people have created to reflect the real horrors in our society. Lisa’s subsequent slow metamorphosis can be seen as a representation of how her physical and sexual assault have affected her; she and Sam discuss how quickly her physical wounds heal yet it is evident to both of them that the encounter has changed Lisa irrevocably and they are both unsure of how this change will manifest. Even Lisa’s having to pretend to be dead to fool the Sheriff and her tormentors so they won’t look for her is reminiscent of how many sexual assault victims describe their mindset after surviving their attack; they feel like a shadow of themselves and as if the person they were before is gone. On the other hand, it’s also a representation of Lisa’s inner strength that she refused to be left to her fate and fought for her own life. In this way, the wolf can be seen as her finding her own strength.
The rape revenge horror genre is a controversial one for obvious reasons, and there are arguments about whether it should exist at all. In this case, Rea’s take is a much more sensitive one than such examples as the I Spit On Your Grave franchise and more focus on Lisa’s change from a helpless victim at the hands of her tormentors to a methodical hunter which is a gratifying one for the audience. Vaganos handles the nuances of this issue with sensitivity and grace and brings a very human aspect to this monster role, not to mention that she choreographed her own fight scenes. On this note, there are some truly awesome kills in the latter half of the film, including one involving a deep fat fryer (I’m sorry for the image I’ve just created in your head, truly). It’s very impressive what this low budget indie has managed to create by using make-up and practical effects to show Lisa’s slow wolf transition and new skills.
Lisa’s final revenge is her showdown with the Sheriff, a violent battle which sees Lisa realise she’s not lost herself at all – if anything, she’s discovering who she really is. The dichotomy of revenge films is perfectly encapsulated by two quotes shown at the outset of the film;
“We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.” from Heinrich Heine and “A person that studieth revenge keeps their own wounds green.” from Francis Bacon. This is what Lisa has accomplished; exacting her revenge and then moving on to heal herself.
Watch the trailer
This article was written by:
Georgia has been a Lesflicks volunteer since December 2020. She is currently an in-house paralegal with a view to specialising in film & TV law in the future. She has a particular interest in film theory, and wrote her undergraduate dissertation on how Disney reinforces their heteronormative agenda by coding Disney villains as queer. Her favourite film is the The VVitch and anything Studio Ghibli.