No amount of anger can render the kind of violence shown in the film “Lizzie: The Legend of Lizzie Borden” without labeling the perpetrator a psychopath. Twenty whacks in the face with a hatchet done twice and once stark naked is more than even any abused “me,tooer” can conjure. Sorry, screenwriter Bryce Kass has taken the Lizzie Borden story into the modern era with no awareness of nineteenth-century repressive mores.
The nudity is over the top while it does show maniacal planning. Basically, Lizzie’s intellectual prowess slides into mind numbing revenge for tampering with her freedom. Lizzie is not to leave the house unaccompanied, and her inheritance is strictly controlled. In similar Victorian times, Emily Dickinson, remember, had to seek permission from her father to write at night. Victorian women’s issues, the class divide, and gender repression were all better seen in the 2017 film “ A Quiet Passion” with Cynthia Nixon playing poet Emily. Not that Chloë Sevigny does not do an admirable job, but the motivation is just not extreme enough~and I argue can never be if Lizzie is to be anything but insane.
The film’s pacing is flawed, too. Except for the violence, “Lizzie” is a painfully slow film. Even the Shakespearean sonnet reading by gaslights and candles does not make up for days going by petting pigeons and picking pears.
Hateful looks make the thirty-two year old Lizzie ( Chloe Sevigny) look like a rebellious teen. The lesbian sex in the pigeon-house and it’s subsequent thrusting against the hay stacks is for a sensationalized motive~ never proven . Yet, the flashback approach and the August 4th, 1882 beginning shot, that has us looking at the back of Lizzie’s fragile neck while we have thoughts of her step-mother’s soon to be severed, is promising. The screenplay just doesn’t deliver.
The film is well cast with Jaime Sheridan in the role of horny, miserly dad. He tells Lizzie that her epileptic seizures set the family up to ridicule. Denis O’Hare is overtly unctuous as the oily uncle, John Morse; and Kristen Stewart as Irish maid and sexual consort to Lizzie and Father dearest is fawn-like in her victimhood. Actress Fiona Shaw is a long-suffering, though hateful step-mom. I like how she delivers her understated line to her husband, “…I am astonished at the endless ways you find to humiliate yourself and this family.” Kim Dickens is a credible older sister, who happens to be away at a friend’s house when the blood is splattered.
Director Craig William MacNeil can’t do much with a script that edges toward slasher/repressed lesbian suspense noir.
We do see Lizzie as whip-smart and sharp-tongued. When a taunting young woman asks why Lizzie’s family keep their house so dark, Lizzie retorts with the query, “ Are you an Edison? You seem fixated with illumination.” When Lizzie’s father catches the maid, whom he has forced to have sex with him now with Lizzie, he calls his daughter an abomination. Lizzie coolly responds with, “ At last, we are on equal footing.”
But if you are seeing “Lizzie” to better understand her or to fill in the blanks of her history, you are seeing the wrong historical drama. Missives of the threatening sort, all in the same hand, bombard the family. Mr. Borden is not well-liked. He punishes Lizzie by having her pet pigeons served for dinner. Yet, it deference to their wealthy family, the murder trial is a closed affair. One will have to watch the History Channel to get the facts on these unsolved murders. The psycho-drama in “Lizzie” did not enlighten or work for me.