‘Lizzie’, in this most recent guise, is a period-thriller interpretation of the famous true story of alleged murderer Lizzie Borden who was accused, and acquitted of murdering her father and stepmother brutally by axe in 1892 Massachusetts.
Lizzie (Chloe Sevigny) is a young independent woman under the control of both her domineering and cruel father Andrew, and of society which is still very much a man’s world. When a new maid comes to work for the Borden family, Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart), Lizzie finds a kindred spirit and their friendship develops into a secret romance. A series of events – a blackmail plot and threat to her inheritance; a plan to have Lizzie admitted to a mental institution due to her epileptic ‘spells’; a discovery of their relationship; the abuse of Bridget by Andrew – lead Lizzie and Bridget to conspire to murder Andrew and her stepmother Abby.
This film combines the elements of arthouse drama, courtroom thriller and tense horror to quite good effect. The dimly lit home where Lizzie lived and Bridget worked is suitably claustrophobic, and the score helps ramp up the tension and confusion when needed. Chloe Sevigny is very good as Lizzie, playing a privileged but repressed woman in a war of attrition with her father, turning calculating and cold blooded as his true nature is revealed. Kristen Stewart complements her as Bridget, with an energetic and rebellious streak, at odds with her place in society and what that means she has to endure. The development of their relationship feels very natural.
Where the movie falls down is in the sensationalist style in which the murders are carried out. Although there a quite a few aspects in this version of the story which are made up or based on conjecture, including the relationship and the blackmail plot, the actual murders as they are portrayed seems “sexed up” and a bit out of step with the rest of the film. However, this is balanced by the great lead up story and the courtroom drama following the killings.