FILM REVIEW – LIZZIE. With Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Kim Dickens, Fiona Shaw, Jamey Sheridan. Written by Bryce Kass. Directed by Craig William Macneill. Rated R for violence and grisly images, nudity, a scene of sexuality and some language. 105 minutes.
It’s one of the most famous of unsolved American murder mysteries. In 1892, Andrew Borden (Jamey Sheridan) and Abby (Fiona Shaw) the woman he married after the death of his first wife, were found brutally killed, apparently from being attacked with a hatchet. The chief suspect was Andrew’s younger daughter Lizzie (Chloë Sevigny), but what actually happened was never uncovered. Over the years numerous theories have emerged, from Lizzie being involved in a lesbian affair with the family’s Irish maid Bridget (Kristen Stewart), to the suspicion that the brother (Denis O’Hare) of the first Mrs. Borden was involved.
There have been various novels, movies and TV shows that have explored the case, but none are likely to be as dull as LIZZIE, a film that moves at such a glacial pace that by the time we finally see the murders occur you’re unlikely to care who is responsible. Apparently, it was a longtime passion project for Sevigny, but it is a film utterly lacking in passion. Those still awake at the end and unfamiliar with the history may be surprised at how it turned out.
The problem is not only the sluggish pacing, but the bloodlessness with which the characters are depicted. Lizzie Borden herself is largely a cipher. In this telling, she defies a bullying father and engages in a sexual relationship with Bridgette – whom her parents condescendingly call “Maggie” as if all Irish maids had the same name – but whose motivation for murder is obscure. Is it her objection to her father’s business dealings with his former brother-in-law? Is it because he beheaded a number of pigeons over her objections? Or is it because he seems to be sexually abusing Bridgit?
And what is driving Bridget? Is it class differences? For all the buildup to the connection between her and Lizzie, it seems more like something to titillate modern audiences than any real feelings between them. Likewise, the gratuitous nudity seems more in the nature of goosing the box office than anything having to do with character or plot. Given the drabness of their clothes, burning any blood-stained evidence would have been unlikely to have been noticed.
A cast that has done interesting work elsewhere seems to have been encouraged to sleepwalk through their roles, as if stodginess somehow made them more believable as 19th-century persons. “Lizzie” is the sort of movie where you keep checking the time and can’t believe how little has passed since you last looked. A serious drama about this American mystery might serve as the basis for an engaging movie. Unfortunately, this one isn’t it.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, will be released in January. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.