Lizzie wastes no time laying out its theories as to who committed the 1892 Borden murders, a grisly double homicide by hatchet for which no one was ever found guilty. Opening on the immediate aftermath of the crime itself, Craig William Macneill’s film pins the blame squarely on the exonerated-but-obviously-guilty Lizzie Borden (Chloë Sevigny), before flashing back six months to show us exactly what pushed her to hack up her father and stepmother.
Borden is a great role for the perpetually underserved Sevigny, who also serves as the film’s producer, and she commits to all its simmering rage and resentment with gusto. As abused housemaid Bridget, the ever-reliable Kristen Stewart is on shakier ground, her usual brilliance masked somewhat behind a distracting Irish accent. She and Sevigny make a good pair, though, especially as a faltering, doomed romance blossoms.
Though Macneill and writer Bryce Kass do a very smart job of gradually laying out all the specific reasons that Lizzie would eventually get away with the killings, Lizzie does little to really raise the pulse outside of a nasty pigeon massacre. This is a tale that should feel thrilling: two women fighting back against a powerful male abuser, avoiding punishment thanks to the same societal misogyny that forced them into such a situation in the first place.
Yet Lizzie is often oddly inert, its non-linear structure robbing it of pace and urgency, and, more than once, the whole thing visibly creaks against its obvious budgetary constraints.
Releasing into an environment where its story feels both relevant and very of its time, Lizzie is a curious mix of genres, and certainly more graphic than you’d expect, but never coheres into a compelling whole.
CAST: Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jamey Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Denis O’Hare, Kim Dickens
DIRECTOR: Craig William Macneill
WRITER: Bryce Kass
SYNOPSIS: A psychological thriller based on the infamous 1892 murders of the Borden family.