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I’ll confess that, beyond the little nursery rhyme, I didn’t know too much about the story of Lizzie Borden, but it appears that much of what’s ended up in Craig William Macneill’s Lizzie is conjecture. So to catch you up to speed in case you never heard it, here goes: Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.
The resultant mess from this bit of New England gothic folklore are some of the first images in this gripping, well-acted and sharply-written low-budget drama. We then flash back six months, just enough time for Macneill to get audiences … well, I won’t exactly say cheering for the eventual act of violence, but at least understanding.
The Borden House is one of the wealthiest in their small Massachusetts town. Though it’s 1892, Andrew (Jamey Sheridan) has yet to have set up electric lights. “Father prefers it in the dark,” Lizzie says to a gossipy women when she goes out – unescorted! – to the theater one night.
Lizzie, a marvelous role for the abundantly talented Chloe Sevigny, is gasping for breath in that house, but her father is strict and her stepmother (Fiona Shaw) and older sister Emma (Kim Dickens) do little for her desire to be independent. Lizzie suffers from occasional fainting spells, and that’s all the excuse one needs for a woman to be considered unfit to make any of her own decisions. Quite frankly, the women with no illnesses don’t seem to fare much better. “We live in this world and not another,” a character later says about the preposterous idea that two women in love could ever live together on their own.
That woman is the new maid, Bridget (Kristen Stewart). Fresh from Ireland, she’s immediately dubbed “Maggie”, just to keep things simple. Lizzie, however, calls her by her real name, then starts teaching her to read. Just as Bridget gets into the rhythm of her work, Andrew suggests she keep her door open at night to let the air circulate. He proceeds to climb the stairs and, grotesquely, encourages her to “be a sweet girl”. There is no way for Bridget to refuse his advances.
The main stretch of Lizzie is a slow burn, showcasing the many insidious ways the cruel abuses of power (patriarchal power, specifically) can break the human spirit. When Lizzie and Bridget finally share an intimate moment it is one of the few glimpses of tenderness in an otherwise brutal film. But it just spells further doom for these two characters.
If the Borden murders went the way portrayed here, well, you’ve got to hand it to Lizzie for thinking it through. I’m not saying it’s right to hack your father’s face past all recognisability, but if you were going to do it, and in an era before you could watch CSI, her scheme was certainly the way to go. Whether you want to applaud when the deed is finally done is entirely up to you.
One thing’s for certain: Sevigny has been ripe for a juicy role like this for some time. It’s a shame she doesn’t get more opportunities. I noticed that Sevigny herself was the first listed producer for the film. Lizzie Borden, if she were to somehow come back as a Hollywood producer, would probably get a kick out of that.
Written by Bryce Kass, Lizzie is an in-depth behind the scenes look into the life of the Borden family six months before the murder of Andrew Borden (Jamey Sheridan) and his wife Abby (Fiona Shaw). Chloë Sevigny stars as Lizzie Borden, a 32-year-old woman whose every move is monitored and controlled by her father, Andrew. Because of this, Lizzie has lived most of her life as a hermit with little to no interaction with anyone outside of her home. Lizzie forms an unlikely relationship with the new maid, Bridget (Kristen Stewart) with whom Lizzie becomes fascinated. The two lonely women quickly become close and form a plan that will release Lizzie from the control of her father.
Whenever there is a Kristen Stewart film playing at a film festival, I go out of my way to see it. Kristen Stewart is one of my favorite actresses, and I admire her work because she takes on roles that are unique, complicated, and stand out. Lizzie was a project that I read a lot about before seeing it. Considering that there have been a least a dozens of films, tv shows, and plays about Lizzie Borden, I was very curious to see how screenwriter Bryce Kass was going to handle telling a story that has been told several times before. I am happy to report that this film is a refreshing and timely take on the Lizzie Borden story with two award-worthy performances and an ending that will leave you speechless.
There is a lot of speculation as to what happened the day of the Borden murders. The majority of Lizzie runtime is spent showing the type of environment that Lizzie grew up in and how her father treated everyone in her household. Sevigny portrays Lizzie as a smart and strong female whose father controls her every move. He is always talking down to her and trying to keep her quiet.
Director Craig William Macneill does a fantastic job of showing how poorly Lizzie was treated and how that treatment ultimately affected her mental state. It is a refreshing to see this because most other stories about Lizzie Borden only focus on how she went crazy without digging into her backstory and showing examples as to why she may have taken matters into her own hands. The real truth is that no one knows what happened at the Borden residence, but the way that Kass tells this story gives Lizzie a voice that hasn’t been given to Lizzie Borden before.
Lizzie in many ways feels like a stage play. There are only a few sets used and the film’s focus is centered primarily on Lizzie and Margaret with Andrew being portrayed as the film’s villain. While the film feels small, the director, DP, and costume designer create a film that is visually stunning. The entire Borden family mansion is so beautifully captured and I loved the use of candlelight in certain scenes. You can tell that this film was a labor of love for everyone involved which could be a reason why Sevigny not only is the lead but a producer on the film as well.
Regarding the story, the film’s first half focuses on the six months leading up to the murders. This is when we are introduced to Bridget and see the dynamic between all the characters. There is a lot of character and story setup within the first half of the film. We get to see scenes like the one where Andrew sneaks into Bridget’s room late at night as well as several confrontations that occur between him and Lizzie.
These scenes all showcase extremely powerful moments and ones that help depict how the Borden household isn’t as picture perfect as many would be lead to be believed. The second half of the film focuses on the murders and the aftermath. The way that this is handled feels incredibly well-rounded but at the same time makes the first half of film feel a tad too long since there is a lot of build-up to something that you know is going to occur.
While the script and direction are strong, the movie would not be a success if it weren’t for its two leading ladies. Despite taking place in 1892, the film feels relevant. Chloë Sevigny has never been better delivering a raw and haunting performance that will stick with you for days. There are several scenes in which you can see a quiet, intense rage in her eyes yet somehow she holds back from lashing out and showing that rage.
Sevigny does such spectacular work with the dialogue that feels as though it was written for her. She has several great one-liners that are perfectly delivered. I love the way that Sevigny presents Lizzie Borden to the audience as well. She is shown as someone who isn’t afraid to go against the status quo and stand up for her beliefs. This character is grounded in reality and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Sevigny turns Lizzie Borden into a very complex character and one that I believe a lot of women and men will certainly get behind.
Kristen Stewart’s performance as Bridget Sullivan is just another incredible performance to add to the actress’ constantly growing filmography. The role of Bridget is unlike anything that we have seen Stewart tackle before and is I believe the first time that she does an Irish accent. I swear that If you close your eyes when Bridget is on-screen talking, you would think that Saoirse Ronan was talking. Stewart embraces the material and dives into this world that Macneill and Kass have created. The intimate scenes with Stewart and Sevigny are ripe with passion and emotion. The chemistry between these two actresses was second to none.
While I would love to go into detail about the way that Macneill and Kass setup the murders, I won’t reveal too much because I don’t want to spoil these scenes for anyone. Let’s just say that the way that the murders occur are shocking and are presented in a way that is much different than you’re anticipating. Again, its hard to talk about without spoilers but the murder scenes are some of the best moments of the film and are astonishingly compelling to watch.
All in all, Lizzie is a refreshing new spin on the Lizzie Borden story that will speak to a modern audience. Macneill and Kass have created a film that is haunting, beautiful, and heartbreaking. Chloë Sevigny has never been better, and Kristen Stewart shows us once again why she truly is one of the best actresses working today. While I don’t know if horror fans will like the art house take on this story, I do believe that many will enjoy seeing a film that shows a whole new side of Lizzie Borden that the world has never seen before.
Scott ‘Movie Man’ Menzel’s rating for Lizzie is an 8 out of 10.
Director Craig William Macneill’s “Lizzie” has another theory. The director re-imagines the murderess (Chloë Sevigny) as a powerless victim who literally slays the patriarchy. It’s a simple story made to rouse modern hearts, and the performances and cinematography are so good, the film nearly pulls off the trick.
Macneill and screenwriter Bryce Kass play their hands boldly. Andrew isn’t just a miser, which he was (the Bordens were locally infamous for refusing to upgrade to electric lights); he’s also a sexist, homophobic rapist. And Lizzie is a lesbian in love with their housemaid Bridget (Kristen Stewart), an Irish immigrant who enters the film in a tidy brown dress looking as helpless as a little bird. She’s even got tiny feathers in her hat.
She and Stewart both have the strong, pointed jaws of people who aren’t as fragile as they first appear. Early on, Lizzie has a ferocious mouth, sniping at a mean girl who teases her for still using candlelight, “Are you an Edison?” That Lizzie vanishes after the first half-hour and the two lovers eventually go near-mute, which underlines the film’s ideas about female passivity, but also clashes with the headstrong girl we first met. Stewart’s maid is more straightforward and practical, the kind of character who gets filled with life just from the look in Stewart’s eyes. Unlike Lizzie, she affords herself no hopes for the future. On the day of the murder, she testified she was outside cleaning windows — which is true, given Bridget’s recorded testimony, and a perfect metaphor for the all-seeing servant who sees everything more clearly than the people inside.
Noah Greenburg’s cinematography is stunning. He frames his actresses with the house, shooting them in shallow focus behind windows and railings to make them look like prisoners. In this airless, dim darkness, they rarely look free.
In “Lizzie,” we come to know Borden’s inner turmoil, not only by her periodic “spells” but also in the way that the camera captures a bewitching Chloë Sevigny. She’s often off-center in the frame, or reflected in mirrors, or out of focus in the foreground as she imagines what’s happening far behind her.
Screenwriter Bryce Kass (“Outlaw Prophet: Warren Jeffs”) and director Craig William Macneill (2015’s “The Boy”), like everyone else who has tackled this story, are left to their own conjectures and theories as to the how and the why behind the murder of Borden’s father and stepmother, but they’ve turned the puzzle pieces into a haunting, horrifying romance.
Six months before Andrew Borden (Jamey Sheridan) and his wife Abby (Fiona Shaw) faced that fatal ax — and despite the famous rhyme, each received far fewer than 40 blows — housemaid Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart) reports for duty. While most of the household refers to her as “Maggie” (the generic name given to all Irish servants, much as all Pullman porters once answered to “George”), Lizzie (Sevigny) immediately calls her by her given name.
Right away, there’s an electricity between them; as Lizzie reaches out to adjust one of Bridget’s hairpins, it’s clear that there’s already a connection. The unmarried Lizzie tests her father’s patience with her willfulness, daring to go to the theater unescorted and constantly questioning his authority. (Being “sent away” for her infractions is a constant threat being dangled over her.) Andrew’s a monster — he visits Bridget’s room in the middle of the night to rape her on multiple occasions — and he’s upset over a series of anonymous threatening notes that have come to the house.
Sevigny and Stewart are intensely affecting as women of different stations who are both nonetheless choked by the demands of the patriarchy; they also create a palpable erotic tension, particularly early on when Bridget is buttoning up Lizzie’s blouse for dinner. Their performances are powerfully supported by the extraordinary ensemble, which also includes Jeff Perry (“Scandal”) as the family attorney.
Based on the true story of Lizzie Borden, a Massachusetts heiress who killed her wealthy father and stepmother in 1892, Craig William Macneill’s feature debut recreates the story in the mode of gothic psychological horror. Starring Chloe Sevigny as the titular anti-hero and Kristen Stewart as an Irish housemaid who may have conspired with her to carry out the murders, Lizzie is, at best, a powerful showcase for the two actors.
With its strong performances and sensationalistic premise and execution, Lizzie may receive some modest commercial play, both in the US and in overseas territories.
Just as Sevigny is full of steely gazes and brittle quips, Stewart is beautifully anguished; her kohl-eyed face revealing years of sorrow.
A sensitive and stylish take on the legend.
The elegantly lurid but compelling Lizzie, written by Bryce Kass, directed by Craig William Macneill (The Boy) and produced by Chloe Sevigny in her best form in the title role, carves out of the raw material a suitably 2018 version, befitting of the #MeToo generation. In their hands, Lizzie becomes a study of secret female lovers (Kristen Stewart co-stars as the household maid Borden falls for) joining forces to fight back against an abusive patriarch (Jamey Sheridan) and his enabling spouse (Fiona Shaw). So it's empowering and respectful when delivering the tender love scenes between the women but also ready to go full-on horror-movie trashy, in a good way, with jump scares, close-up shots of faces stabbed to a pulp and a naked, blood-splattered Sevigny stalking stealthily across sun-dappled vintage floorboards.
In 1892, Lizzie Borden stood trial for the murders of her father and step-mother in Fall River, Massachusetts. No one knows for sure why Andrew and Abigail Borden were murdered in their home one August morning. Many theories have surfaced over the years, ranging from Lizzie’s supposed insanity to some sort of financial dispute.
This new film bucks the traditional horror route in telling the story of the ill-fated Bordens. Instead, “Lizzie” is, at its core, a drama of a family under siege. Chloë Sevigny stars as 32-year-old maid, Lizzie. Her father Andrew (Jamey Sheridan), tries to control his daughter, although she frequently finds ways to subvert him. Her sister Emma (Kim Dickens) is much more willing to appease his overbearing tendencies. Lizzie strikes up a friendship with their new maid, Bridget Sullivan—known to the family by the generic Irish name Maggie—(Kristen Stewart). Their friendship eventually blossoms into more. Abby Borden (Fiona Shaw) is a step-mother who never speaks against her husband, even when it seems she doesn’t agree with him.
While the film is more a drama than anything else, director Craig William Macneill weaves in gripping tension and sensuality. Upon first meeting, Lizzie adjusts a pin in Bridget’s hair, and already the connection between the two crackles in the air like electricity. When Lizzie and Emma’s maternal uncle John arrives at the family home, you can sense something is off long before anyone ever suggests it. There is so much unspoken throughout the film, and because it doesn’t need to be said. Entire conversations can be communicated with a simple glance, a peek through a window, hands tying an apron.
Perhaps what heightens the tension is the fact that it maintains Victorian-era chastity throughout most of the film. Macneill doesn’t need to show what happens when Andrew makes late-night visits to Bridget’s room. Scenes between Lizzie and Bridget are captivating in their intensity, conveying heat and longing through brushing a hand, or passing a note.
Chloë Sevigny shines in this leading performance. She commands attention in every scene, giving Lizzie Borden depth and strength. She does this while also giving the audience reasons to sympathize with her.
Kristen Stewart is also very good as Bridget. Her quiet, mournful expressions are well-suited to an Irish immigrant, alone in a new country, far from her family.
The film is full of great performances. Jamey Sheridan and Fiona Shaw are great as the doomed parents. Denis O’Hare is exceptionally creepy as Uncle John. Kim Dickens plays nice as much more submissive sister Emma.
Bryce Kass extensively researched the many theories and legends of the Borden murders. While the idea of a relationship between Lizzie and Bridget isn’t new (it was first introduced in a novel by Ed McBain), Kass gives the youngest Borden depth. Where others focus on her “spells” as signs of deep and deadly mental illness, Kass writes a woman who challenges the world around her. She questions convention and stands up to the men that want to believe they serve her best interests.
This is a film that takes its time. It isn’t in a hurry, but doesn’t dawdle either. The cinematography, the sparse score, the costume design, everything comes together to craft the confined and isolated life of a wealthy family under the control of an overbearing patriarch.
“Lizzie” is looking for distribution, but will hopefully be in theaters later this year.
Lizzie is a psychological thriller based on the story of Lizzie Borden and the axe murder of the Borden family, directed by Craig William Macneill and edited by Abbi Jutkowitz, starring Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart. Sevigny and Stewart are definitely at their best in the film with great characters and occasionally sharp dialogue, which is quiet, tense, and slow to build. But when it builds, it gets downright scary. It’s not surprising to add that Lizzie is pretty violent, and as I was thinking about my take on the film, I wondered if seeing a woman involved in this level of carnage (in a non-pulpy sense) was unconsciously affecting my opinion. It’s going to take a while before I really have a clear opinion, but I do know this: Lizzie ended up being a challenging and timely depiction of female rage.