A story that will no doubt be familiar to fans of true crime, the infamous Lizzie Borden who murdered her father and step-mother is now the subject of this film, starring Chloe Sevigny as the titular character, and Kristen Stewart as her maid/lover/accomplice Bridget Sullivan.
Treading precariously between bodice ripper and period horror, the tonal balance of ‘Lizzie’ is one which is not always well executed. What does work is the exceptional sound design. By punctuating the film with violent and jarring outbursts, the sound design and score cut into the stifling silence in a way that is unnerving and builds the slow burn of dread effectively.
A far cry away from her Twilight days, Kristen Stewart continues to astound, and this is another solid performance from her. This film is in fact anchored by its performances, most notably from Stewart and Sevigny. Stewart provides an emotional core to the film, the person that the audience is most easily able to attach itself to, whereas Sevigny plays cold, calculating and callous to absolute perfection.
Where the film works is in their performances, the dynamic between their characters and the ways they interact with each other. Sadly where it doesn’t work is everything else, and the overall result is a bit of a mess.
The overly starched nature of the film is perhaps necessary in conveying Lizzie’s broiling inner anguish towards her father, but it unfortunately results in the film feeling distant and cold, and in a film where you know the outcome, it is hard to stick with it.
Bearing in mind that this film starts with how it ends – that being the bloody murder of Lizzie’s parents – the film somehow feels it is necessary to revisit the same bit over and over again. The multiple viewpoints approach is something that can work, but in the case of ‘Lizzie’, it just tips over to the point where it feels it is gratuitously revelling in the bloodshed; something which feels tonally out of step with the quietly surfacing horror of the rest of the film.
At times, it feels like the film has something to say about both proverbially and literally smashing the patriarchy, but it fails to settle on a message or an angle and instead throws a whole load of ideas into the mix in the hope that something – anything – will stick.
Despite its strong performances, ‘Lizzie’ falls short of the mark, failing to find its feet and settle on a tone and voice which feels consistent. It’s certainly not without merit, but overall, a bit of a disappointment.
Directed by: Craig William Macneill
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Chloë Sevigny, Fiona Shaw