An unexpected take on a famous American murder case.


Kristen Stewart and Chloë Sevigny


Back in 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts, a crime was committed that would still be famous a hundred years later. Wealthy landowner Andrew Borden and his second wife Abby were murdered and a trial took place at which Lizzie Borden, one of two daughters of Andrew’s first marriage, was the accused. She was acquitted and yet, despite the facts of the case being impossible to verify, Lizzie is widely remembered as being the killer. Famously a Broadway revue of the 1950s incorporated a tongue-in-cheek song about it: its tone (“You can’t chop your poppa up in Massachusetts not even if it’s planned as a surprise”) was akin to black comedy but it did not hesitate to suggest Lizzie’s guilt.


The film Lizzie which now reaches us, directed by Craig William Macneill and written by Bryce Kass, is a wholly serious portrayal of the killings and of the events leading up to them. It contains reliable performances, especially from Chloë Sevigny as Lizzie and from Kirsten Stewart as Bridget Sullivan, the Irish maid employed by Andrew Borden at the time. Even so, the purpose of this exercise is far from clear. At its climax, the film offers a graphic account of how in this version of the tale the murders were committed. Yet, that sequence apart, the film adopts a quiet domestic tone that will not commend it to lovers of horror movies. It does portray a world of patriarchal power, but we have seen that many times before and in any case the attempt at being a serious period piece of appeal to arthouse audiences is torpedoed by Jeff Russo’s persistent music score (it ranges from clichéd dramatic chords to summon a sense of dread to such bizarre oddities as repeated piano notes).


Without revealing where it leads, it can be said that Kass opts to depict male oppression (Andrew Borden is seen as a sexual opportunist in addition to being a harsh father) and chooses to show it as driving Lizzie and Bridget into each other’s arms. However, a book by the late Evan Hunter published in 1984 has already put forward the theory of a lesbian relationship playing its part in these events but, despite Kass embracing this notion, many have questioned it. True or false, the tale as presented here is not one to warm the hearts of lesbians so it is not just the manner of its telling that is questionable but what is to be gained by presenting this version of events now. The acting certainly helps and the surprise revelation offered of how the killings occurred does make for a powerful climax. Nevertheless, this seems a rather broken-backed and unnecessary film.




Cast: Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jamey Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Kim Dickens, Denis O’Hare, Jeff Perry, Tara Ochs, Jay Huguley.


Dir Craig William Macneill, Pro Naomi Depres and Chloë Sevigny, Screenplay Bryce Kass, Ph Noah Greenberg, Pro Des Elizabeth J. Jones, Ed Abbi Jutkovitz, Music Jeff Russo, Costumes Natalie O’Brien.


Powder Hound Pictures/Artina Films/Destro Films-Bulldog Film Distribution.
105 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 14 December 2018. Cert. 15.