The intriguing case of Lizzie Borden, who was accused of the axe murders of her father and stepmother in 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts, has resulted in many explorations over the years. Since Borden was acquitted, the case remains a mystery for speculation. Borden died at the age of 66 in 1927.
The new film “Lizzie,” directed by Craig William Macneill from a screenplay by Bryce Kass, offers a fresh twist. Lizzie, given a riveting performance by Chloë Sevigny, is involved in a lesbian relationship with an Irish maid, Bridget Sullivan, played with low-key provocation by Kristen Stewart. Lizzie is also shown to on occasion shake with undiagnosed fits.
There is no doubt as to Lizzie’s guilt in this version. We see her wielding an axe. There is eroticism involved, as Lizzie appears naked. To what purpose? Logically it might be to avoid getting blood on her clothes. But perhaps it is also to show raw emotion. Or cynically, maybe it is just to expose Sevigny's attractive body.
In the buildup we see the abuse of Lizzie by her ultra-stern and penny-pinching but wealthy father, Andrew, played by Jamey Sheridan. Andrew is extremely cruel, at one point slaughtering the pigeons Lizzie collects. Fiona Shaw is Abby, the stepmother whom Lizzie loathes. We are also introduced to Lizzie’s uncle John (Denis O’Hare), a nasty fellow who schemes to get the inheritance that would be due Lizzie and her older sister, Emma (Kim Dickens).
The undercurrent running through the film is the stifling of Lizzie’s desire to move independently into the world around her, which provides a feminist tinge to the interpretation. But wielding an axe isn’t exactly a #MeToo solution.
Sevigny’s captivating performance and that of Stewart as the maid-lover combine to give the film momentum and power. The result is a work that delivers its own solid view of events, although of course, the truth of what happened remains unknown and still grist for endless speculation. But this “Lizzie” stands firmly with its own compelling, stylish drama. A Roadside Attractions release. Reviewed September 14, 2018.