It may have happened over 100 years ago but the story of Lizzie Borden and her penchant for axe murder has lived on in television, theatre and film. This time around, Chloë Sevigny takes on the notorious killer with Kristen Stewart as her housemaid, love interest and possible accomplice. It’s only the second feature for director Craig William Macneill but with his first following a 9-year-old sociopath’s growing fascination with death (The Boy), it isn’t too much of a stretch.
The film’s release in cinemas was minimal and its recent appearance on digital and DVD has gone barely noticed but the question is, was it justified or are you missing out on a hidden gem?
Casting Sevigny and Stewart guarantees you intense brooding and strong screen presence, they have a quiet chemistry but not one with a huge amount of spark, it’s a slow building romance that isn’t very romantic, and takes liberties skipping up a few gears. Their relationship begins out of kindness and loneliness, with Lizzie teaching Bridget how to read and fairly quickly (and awkwardly) turns into something physical. The actors were more than capable of making this a more convincing romance but they’re given neither the time nor sufficient writing to achieve that, there’s a lack of understanding in how to progress this relationship, it feels clumsy and rushed, which is a real shame. You’ve then got the ever dependable and recent BAFTA winner, Fiona Shaw in a role that was never going to do her any justice.
There are moments of sharp, witty dialogue but they’re so infrequent that they can’t hold together the script but instead just fuel frustration at seeing its missed potential. Despite the fact that anyone who isn’t completely oblivious will know exactly where the plot is going, it still feels as though it’s meandering, the disparity of time spent prior, during and after the murders is an unsatisfying combination. It further lets itself down with a lacklustre score, irritating sound mixing and the random inclusion of what can only be intended as atmospheric shots but that simply slow things further down. Not to mention it’s unmistakable that each and every woman in the film is wearing lipstick, which is both thematically inappropriate and the wrong colour, as well as seeming to be the exact same one used on all of them because perhaps there wasn’t budget for more?
When the least interesting character in Lizzie…is Lizzie, you know the film already has some serious problems and they’re utterly frustrating. Telling the story in this manner and exploring the involvement of the maid, including her possible relationship with Lizzie, was an interesting concept and great actors were chosen for the project but the materials they were given couldn’t live up to its potential. The story is written and directed in a way that shows a lack of grasp on how to explore this relationship and how to gradually build the bond between two women, as well as how to satisfyingly present the story, which given the general public’s obsession with murder you’re already getting a leg up.
It seems as though they were more focused on getting the leading ladies in the nude, than what they could really accomplish.