Crime/Drama, 1 hr 45 min
Logline: A psychological thriller based on the infamous 1892 murders of the Borden family.
one of the 19th century’s biggest mysteries…
Lizzie, directed by Craig William Macneill and starring the talented Chloë Sevigny and Kristen Stewart, is based on the real-life murder mystery of Abby and Andrew Borden, a well to do upper class couple in 1890s America. Many accounts have been told of these brutal murders, but none resonated with me as much as Macneill’s thought provoking, if not graphic, sympathetic feminist take.
It’s 1892 and the Borden family hire a maid named Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart); she and Lizzie (Chloë Sevigny), the Borden’s younger daughter, start an unlikely friendship. In the 1890s, we see quite clearly that life isn’t exactly liberating for women, and Lizzie is shown to be a woman who is not happy with her lot in life—from her gruff demeanour when she interacts with anyone to her absolute contempt of any suitors thrown at her. This is with exception to Bridget, whom Lizzie appears to warm to right from the start. The friendship between the two evolves into something more and deepens, in stark juxtaposition to Lizzie’s relationship with her parents, which continues to unravel at an alarming rate. MacNeill is clever here as we feel the tension build and our curiosity piqued as we await the inevitable grisly outcome to this conflict.
We are made very aware that women are treated as second class citizens in this film. They are completely dominated and controlled by their male relatives, and even into older age, are treated as incompetent and lesser. The fact that we are shown that Lizzie Borden was acquitted of the murder of her parents because the all-male jury just couldn’t conceive that a woman was capable of such heinous deeds, ironically supports this.
Macneill chooses a slightly different take on the many retellings of the Borden murders, creating a believable backstory for what the reasoning might have been and what might have compelled someone of Borden’s class and demeanour to brutally murder her parents. It seems that nobody really knew if Lizzie was guilty of the grisly crime or not, and it’s one of the 19th century’s biggest mysteries. Macneil’s Lizzie is portrayed as the downtrodden, the dominated—a woman who feels she has no choice in how she reacts to her circumstances. As a result, we are led to feel that the Borden parents, particularly the father, are cruel, indifferent, monstrous, and in a lot of ways, absolutely deserving of their gruesome fates.
Lizzie is well filmed and craftily performed by all the actors, so that the world is not only understood but felt viscerally. I was left rooting for Lizzie and feeling less than sorry for the murdered parents, even as the axe was falling. I felt myself compelled to lean forward in my seat, with a slight curve at the corner of my lips, in almost gleeful anticipation, with the realisation that they would finally be getting their just desserts and justice would be metered out.
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This review was written by:
Reviewer and Writer
Alex has worked as a film stills photographer, written stories for a museum promotion campaign and has had her work featured on the cover of an Australian based lesbian magazine. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree, focusing on film, writing and photography from Perth's Edith Cowan University.
She is currently working on a documentary project centred on lesbian refugee women’s experiences, combining her love of documentary film, photography and her current role as an occupational therapist. All in all, she is passionate about film, especially lesbian-made and themed films.