Directed by Craig William Macneill.
Starring Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jay Huguley, Jamey Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Kim Dickens, Denis O’Hare, and Jeff Perry.
A psychological thriller based on the infamous 1892 murders of the Borden family.
Craig William Macneill’s (The Boy) Lizzie Borden biopic couldn’t be further from prior campy adaptations of the iconic ax-murderer’s life (especially those Lifetime-produced ones fronted, with undeniable gusto, by Christina Ricci). This aptly art-house take spins a decidedly more sedate, less-sensationalist yarn, and is all the better for it.
Macneill sets a sinister mood from the outset, establishing the misery of Borden’s humdrum, repressed existence in 1892 Massachusetts with bleakly washed-out visuals and detached framing that have more than a hint of Kubrick to them.
Long before she violently lashes out at the patriarchal forces before her, there are lingering glimpses of axes strewn around Borden’s house almost playful in their loaded meaningfulness, especially if you have even a passing knowledge of what she eventually did with one of them.
The tragedy of Lizzie’s story steadily emerges through the abuse administered by her father Andrew (a savage Jamey Sheridan) to not only his daughter but also her kindly Irish housemaid Bridget (Kristen Stewart).
Macneill generally adopts a spare, restrained approach to the horrors they suffered, though appropriately jarring, discordant moments do occasionally interrupt the otherwise mellow clip and mood (especially a violent epileptic fit realised through sudden jump cuts and discordant drone music).
Though Chloë Sevigny is actually a decade older than the Borden she portrays here, you’ll likely be so captivated by her performance you won’t even notice. It’s yet another courageous, wonderfully understated turn from a too-often unsung industry vet, and pulling off subtle when you’re playing an axe-wielding killer sure isn’t easy.
The real surprise here, however, is Stewart. She’s been reliably terrific in her post-Twilight career, but to hear her pulling off such a convincing Irish accent is really quite something, to say nothing of her fine dramatic work on the whole. Sevigny makes for one of her most persuasively compelling screen partners to date, and together, they’re quite splendid.
Accepting all this praise, though, it’s fair to say Macneill’s film won’t be for everyone; its 105-minute run-time does invite a few dry, languid moments that could be trimmed. The shockingly gory detail of the murders, meanwhile, may surprise those expecting absolute restraint.
Somewhat more unexpectedly, this is in fact more a broad sketch of Borden than a deeply nuanced portrait, with Macneill clearly preferring the audience to populate the cinematic vacuum with at least a few of their own ideas. Nevertheless, Chloë Sevigny and Kristen Stewart shine in this sobering, unflinching depiction of an infamous cult figure.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.