SHOULD I SEE IT?
An interesting take on the Lizzie Borden story, which will have those fascinated with the story curious about the ideas put forth by director Craig William Macneill and screenwriter Bryce Kass.
Chloë Sevigny and Kristen Stewart generate terrific chemistry as women existing together, falling in love, and trying to survive in a stifling, muted environment.
A slow-burn of a film, more drama than horror, building great intensity through gorgeous cinematographer and authentic costuming and set design.
I wish the screenplay dug deeper than just scratching the surface with these characters. The movie feels like it leaves a lot of ideas and concepts on the table.
A few people have remarked to me that the movie feels very long at 105 minutes, and that slow, methodical approach was something they could not get into whatsoever.
Violent images may shock the system a bit, and though sparingly used, this is not for the squeamish.
With hushed tones and a tempestuous fire burning within, Lizzie offers us a different take on the story of the still-legendary Lizzie Borden, the infamous woman who, as nursery rhymes tell us, “took an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks…” and so on.
While never convicted of murdering her father and stepmother in 1892, the grisly details of those murders, crimes which Borden was acquitted of (because a woman of such standing could never commit such ghastly acts), have been the fodder for numerous songs, stage productions, television movies and series, books, and other forms of art. The morbid fascination with Lizzie Borden is something that has appealed to true crime fanatics, but also people who see Borden as something of an icon – a woman wrongfully accused of crimes she never committed.
Lizzie wants to try and have this both ways, or all ways really, as director Craig William Macneill crafts a bleak, darkened world with nary enough air for its main characters to take a full breath.
In the title role, Chloë Sevigny initially presents with a feisty, spirited attitude, dovetailing into increased and suppressed silence, as she is manipulated and verbally badgered by father Andrew (Jamey Sheridan). A creeper of an uncle, John (Denis O’Hare), adds to Lizzie’s discomfort, and stepmother Abby (Fiona Shaw) often says nothing; knitting, tending to chores, and trying to stay out of Andrew’s way as much as she tries to keep him happy.
In these moments, Macneill and screenwriter Bryce Kass, making his feature-film debut, give us a character to root for. We see a woman losing her voice, bottling her anger, and turning to new housekeeper Bridget (Kristen Stewart) to find a kinship. Together they find more, as they soon fall in love and attempt to keep their trysts and passions hidden and unspoken.
Lizzie is a beautiful film to watch. Noah Greenberg’s cinematography is outstanding, incorporating natural lighting, the flickering of candles, and imposing shadows to create a sense of dread, suffocation, and hopelessness in the film’s opening act. As Lizzie becomes more withdrawn and engages in something of a taboo affair, the film brightens in key moments, making her world large, and, in turn, Lizzie small in the context of all that swirls around her.
For the craftsmanship on display, Kass’ screenplay never gives us much more than surface-level conversations and melodramatic line readings. Character motivations become difficult to define. For Lizzie Borden to be presented as a woman, pushed to the brink, who may or may not have committed the crimes she was accused of, we seldom get to the heart of what would have driven her or compelled her to act out in such a way.
A mixed bag, with Sevigny and Stewart giving two strong performances and the visual presentation quite accomplished, Lizzie is a movie that has all the pieces in place to be great, but struggles to bring everything together. Always outspoken, Sevigny has even gone public with her disappointment in the final cut, after it premiered at Sundance in January 2018.
In the end, Lizzie offers a unique, somewhat provocative angle on a story that has been discussed and debated for over 125 years. Though it will pique the interest of those who remain fascinated by Lizzie Borden’s folklore, I am not entirely sure Lizzie achieves the ultimate power and impact it aims for.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Kim Dickens, Denis O’Hare, Fiona Shaw, Jamey Sheridan, Tara Ochs, Jeff Perry.
Director: Craig William Macneill
Written by: Bryce Kass
Release Date: September 14, 2018