Chloe Sevigny plays Lizzie Borden, the notorious hatchet murderer. The film follows Borden through the days leading up to the double murder and the immediate aftermath. The tensions between her and her family explored along with her state of mind.
The film is a character study driven by some very strong performances, particularly Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart. Sevigny as Borden is a woman who snatches power where ever she can. She’s charismatic and clever, and her defeat at the hands of the men in her life is leaves a clear mark on her disposition. Stewart plays the family maid with great fragility. She is a mysterious figure and yet instantly relatable. Jamey Sheriden as the oppressive patriarch is a forceful yet believable presence.
The aesthetic of the film emphasizes natural beauty in opposition to the confines of the Borden house. One sequence sees Borden framed by a tattered curtain in a window surrounded by chipped and battered wood. She seems a part of the worn house, peering forlornly from the battered walls. Her oppression is visceral, as is her liberation through nature and possibly love.
The murders themselves are held back until the very end, though they occur within the plot roughly halfway through. The weight of them throughout the story is palpable. They loom on the horizon like storm clouds throughout the early story. The execution, so to speak, itself is visceral and upsetting. This isn’t a glamourised ceasing of power, nor is it a cathartic moment of release. It’s a troubling act merited only by the suffering of the two leads.
The handling of Borden’s domestic situation is a little conventional and underdeveloped. Her father is physically abusive, intolerant, a misogynist, a hypocrite and all other typical attributes of a murderable dad. A more even handed approach may have offered a more nuanced understanding of Borden. There is, however a great sincerity to the film. An earnest attempt to reevaluate the notorious woman.
Lizzie is a moving sympathy plea for a woman very much the product of her time. It is a well acted and intensely psychological thriller that earns the sympathy it demands.
Lizzie will have it’s UK Premier at the London Film Festival at the Picturehouse Central on Thursday the 11th of October.