Directed by Craig William Macneill.
Starring Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Kim Dickens, Fiona Shaw, Denis O’Hare, and Jamey Sheridan.
A psychological thriller based on the infamous 1892 murders of the Borden family.
Craig William Macneill’s Lizzie falsely – in my opinion – bills itself as a “psychological thriller” based on 1892’s famous Borden murders. Small-town Massachusetts constriction makes for a stifling, detrimentally weightless history lesson that spoils its ending out the gate. Dead Air: The Movie is more like it. Patriarchal commentaries and gender politics lunge for the throat of 2018, only to lose themselves drifting in a cinematic purgatory so dusty you could asphyxiate. A drab, boring-as-sin exercise in period recreation neither submissive Kristen Stewart nor slighted Chloë Sevigny can resuscitate.
It’s Sevigny who stars as title character Lizzie Borden, a proper daughter who’s pushed past her breaking point by mistreatment from others. Her mother Abby (Fiona Shaw) stands by as father Andrew (Jamey Sheridan) commits adultery with housekeepers after hours, Andrew refuses to see Lizzie as a fit caretaker to the Borden fortune – usual family problems. Poor Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart), the Borden’s new “Maggie,” finds herself caught between Mr. Borden’s inappropriate abuse and Lizzie’s compassionate friendship. As hardships increase only increase for both Bridget and Lizzie, little miss Borden hatches a plan. One that’d go down as an American-bred murder for the ages.
Lizzie has one objective – tell a common, often adapted true crime from a different perspective. A dead stepmother, slain father, the bloody hatchet? Audiences will not be surprised by these textbook details, nor should they be. Hence why Macneill opens on a panicked Lizzie Borden, her shaken “Maggie,” and two hacked-up corpses. What occurs around these notables should be where vision, performance, and intent ensnare observant watchers, but compelling stakes are never engaged. Tone sleepwalks through cut-and-dry dramatic beats that never spike complexity. “Here’s a Lizzie Borden story, take it or leave it” – as far as Bryce Kass’ script ever digs.
Subtlety smacks with a thirsty disregard for tension, as all involved so desperately yearn for Lizzie to be a seismic statement maker. Late 1800s behavioral norms angrily bash male power complexes, female place-putting, and same-sex relationship shunning with clenched fists. Motivations for a perfect crime that are used to define frustrations still rampant in today’s fearful society. There’s importance and retaliation in Sevigny’s performance, but nothing in the Borden case benefits from additional bridge-building between centuries of not-so-different evolutionary changes. What was once bad is less bad now but still bad – noteworthy intent, whispering execution.
Stewart and Sevigny acknowledge lusty romanticism through fluttery eyes for a considerable duration of Lizzie. Stewart forever the stone-faced, emotionless, quiver-lipped actress who’s born for such performances. Sevigny challenges blatant sexism and her father’s unfair belief in the competence of females with the sharpness of a swinging blade. Two “helpless” characters failed by the times, disoriented amidst utter blankness in acting so rigid, so…outdated. We transport into 1800s silence, and Macneill’s direction does little to evoke presence beyond creaky floorboards or old English insults (harlots, disownment). Even between Stewart and Sevigny, who combust during the film’s “climactic” illegality.
Jeff Russo’s spiky, paranoid score suggests Lizzie is a different movie than presented. The “psychological thriller,” not the barren homelife postcard. Russo’s score is rather accomplished – just completely unaligned with Macneill’s crafted tediousness. Lizzie is a flat-footed stroll, not the temperamental tip-toe audible pacing suggests. Frankly, I’d love to see the movie Russo scored whether it exists or not.
It’s a shame. Lizzie brings nothing to the Borden table and deflates most when aggression ascends highest. Chloë Sevigny, being choked while pinned against wooden wall beams, hearing how she’ll never matter (stupid girl argument). Kristen Stewart laying in bed, shaking, as Mr. Borden leaves after another midnight “visit.” These are disgusting, volatile moments, failed by an uninviting desire to retell in the most stuffy, unspectacular way. The sins of Lizzie Borden’s past warn what comeuppance looks like, but it’s such a dreary slog. Like flipping pages in a social studies tome without ever jumping into the page.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram (@DoNatoBomb).