This take on the Lizzie Borden story, in which the daughter of a well-off Massachusetts family allegedly bludgeoned her father and stepmother to death with an ax in 1892, is worth a look if only for the two central performances by Chloë Sevigny and Kristin Stewart. Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.
Before watching “Lizzie,” I wondered if the world really needed yet another take on the Lizzie Borden story, in which the daughter of a well-off Massachusetts family allegedly bludgeoned her father and stepmother to death with an ax in 1892. (She was, for the record, found not guilty in a subsequent trial.) After watching “Lizzie,” despite some good performances, I wondered the same thing.
Director Craig William Macneill (“The Boy”) alternates the movie’s tone between deliberate and lurid, the result being an angsty costume drama occasionally interrupted by generous splashes of blood (both human and avian variety). Life in the painfully tidy Borden house — a place with an unusually large number of opening and closing doors — was a nightmare, both for Lizzie (Chloë Sevigny) and the Irish maid Bridget (Kristen Stewart). Both Lizzie’s father Andrew (Jamey Sheridan) and stepmother Abby (a nicely malevolent Fiona Shaw) are depicted as horrific people, the sort that nearly anyone might want to ax. Bored and miserable, Lizzie makes a connection with Bridget by tutoring her; a relationship that soon becomes physical.
The long-held fascination with Lizzie’s story — did she really get away with murder? — kind of gets in the way here; we know what’s going to happen, and we wait in vain for “Lizzie” to do something truly surprising with this oft-told tale. But it’s worth a look if only for the two central performances. Stewart, reminding us once again that Bella Swan barely skimmed the surface of her talent, makes Bridget a tiny, pinched young woman, gritting her teeth against a life without hope. And Sevigny, whose particular brand of complicated woman elevates everything she’s in (her scheming Nicki made HBO’s “Big Love” delicious), gives Lizzie a quiet simmer, a gaze that could freeze steam and, where necessary, a madwoman-in-the-attic desperation. If this is the last Lizzie Borden movie, the character’s been left in good hands.
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★★½ “Lizzie,” with Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jamey Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Kim Dickens, Denis O’Hare, Jeff Perry. Directed by Craig William Macneill, from a screenplay by Bryce Kass. 106 minutes. Rated Rated R for violence and grisly images, nudity, a scene of sexuality and some language. Opens Sept. 21 at multiple theaters.