'Lizzie' Tells A Different Version Of The Lizzie Borden Legend

By James Jay Edwards
Released: September 21, 2018
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A psychological thriller based on the infamous 1892 murders of the Borden family.

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Film Review
Everyone knows the story of Lizzie Borden. It's one of the most notorious murders in American history. But, because Borden was acquitted of the crimes, there has always been an air of mystery surrounding both the woman and the killings. Which leads to some speculative and creative movies. Movies like Lizzie.

Lizzie stars Chloë Sevigny (Lean on Pete, The Snowman) in the title role and Kristen Stewart (Personal Shopper, Café Society) as Bridget Sullivan, a maid recently hired to help with the Borden household. Lizzie and Bridget strike up a friendship and become close, even intimate, very quickly. Lizzie's father and stepmother (Spotlight's Jamey Sheridan and The Tree of Life's Fiona Shaw, respectively) are not popular people, neither in their house nor in their town, so it does not take long for Lizzie to ensnare Bridget into a diabolical plan to rid herself of her emotionally cruel parents.

Lizzie, image courtesy Roadside Attractions.

Lizzie was a passion project for Chloë Sevigny, who has always been fascinated by Borden's enigmatic mythology. As producer, Sevigny commissioned the screenplay from writer Bryce Kass (Outlaw Prophet: Warren Jeffs), who turned in a fresh, new angle on the age-old murder mystery. Everyone knows the basic series of events of the Lizzie Borden legend, and they are basically unchanged here, but Kass and director Craig William Macneill (The Boy, "Channel Zero") stir the pot a bit by introducing new motivations and interests into the familiar story.

When it comes to the Lizzie Borden case, there are a lot of "what ifs?" and "how comes?" that swim around. No one truly knows what happened, and Macneill seems to relish in playing with some of that grey area in Lizzie. The savory bits that fill in the gaps in what is generally known about the events leading up to the fateful morning are what turn Lizzie into an intriguing movie. It's purely speculative, but that's the fun. No one knows, so let's guess.

Lizzie, image courtesy Roadside Attractions.

Macneill isn't the only one having fun with Lizzie. Both Chloë Sevigny and Kristen Stewart sink their teeth into their roles, turning what could be just run-of-the-mill period drama starched skirt characters into cunning, trope-shifting semi-vixens. There's a lot of subtle cat and mouse going on in Lizzie, and the ever-changing developments in who's-the-antagonist keep the audience on the edge of its collective seat. We all know how Lizzie is going to end, so the movie becomes about how we're going to get there, and everyone involved, from Macneill and Kass to Sevigny and Stewart, realizes it.

The revisionist history in Lizzie is not the type that's going to offend or bother people. It might not even be revisionist. No one knows. Again, the details of the crime in the film are purely speculative. But Lizzie does put forward some juicy theories, and those theories make for a pretty fun movie.

Lizzie, image courtesy Roadside Attractions.
Scary Factor
Although it deals with the circumstances surrounding a horrible murder, Lizzie is not truly a horror movie itself, so the scares are pretty thin. There is only one real horror segment in the film; Lizzie does show the infamous murder scene, as well as the aftermath of it, and the blood-and-guts makeup effects are great. Much of the actual hacking happens just outside of the camera's frame, so the sounds are more disturbing than the images. And the scene is over rather quickly, before it has the chance to really send any chills up the collective spine of the audience. So, while the axe murdering scene is done well, it's pretty much all that the movie has in terms of scares. Lizzie is more of a psychological mystery than a slasher flick.

Lizzie, image courtesy Roadside Attractions.

Biography, Crime, Drama
Release Date
September 21, 2018
MPAA Rating
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