Lizzie Borden took an axe, she gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave Kristen Stewart a big fat kiss.
That doesn’t sound right, but that’s essentially the plot of Craig William Macneill’s drama-thriller Lizzie, which has Chloë Sevigny playing the notorious title character, who strikes up a relationship with her family’s sexually abused maid (Stewart) before killing her parents.
Macneill is the mind behind the creepy thriller The Boy, and his interest in murder continues with Lizzie, a tight, grounded depiction of the events that led up to the bloody massacre that has been epitomized in poem format for children to repeat more than a century later. The movie is efficiently directed, almost entirely constrained to interior shots with just about all fat axed from the story.
Both Sevigny and Stewart are great, though Sevigny, understandably, gets most of the juicy material. Lizzie is, after all, about the title character’s descent into madness (or at least a snapshot of her madness), though of course no one knows for sure what happened in that house as Borden was acquitted of the crime.
The relationship between Lizzie and the maid, who was the primary witness in the trial, appears to have been embellished for dramatic effect, though these days inserting a homosexual element into a story such as this almost feels cliché, as if screenwriter Bryce Kass couldn’t think of something more original or nuanced to explain the bond between the two stars.
Nonetheless, Macneill and Kass deliver a fairly satisfying murder sequence that isn’t quite what you’d expect—it’s memorable in more ways than one, and, as should be the case in a movie about Lizzie Borden, is that standout scene.
Lizzie swings its axe smoothly. The movie, of intentionally small scope, won’t garner a large audience and will end up as not much more than an asterisk on the actresses’ resumes, but for what it is, Lizzie earned her 40 whacks. Oh, and the forty-one to her father.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.