Directed by: Craig William Macneill
Written by: Bryce Kass
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Chloë Sevigny, Kim Dickens, Fiona Shaw and Jamey Sheridan
Run Time: 1h 45min
Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama
3 ½ Frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
There’s a nursery rhyme, for lack of a better term, that you probably heard while you were growing up that goes as follows, ‘Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother forty whacks; When she saw what she had done she gave her father forty-one.’ This was based on Lizzie Borden and the murder of her parents and the movie does a great job of getting down to ‘IF’ Lizzie was guilty, why did she do it? The very thought of it is horrible and you immediately think her a monster but was she guilty? If she were, was she pushed too far? Was she in her right mind? At trial, a jury of all men deliberated for ninety minutes and returned a not guilty verdict because they, ‘refused to believe a woman of her social standing could commit such a heinous crime.’
During the film, we learn that Lizzie’s (Sevigny) father, Andrew (Sheridan) and his icy cold second wife Abby (Shaw) are very wealthy. Andrew requires an undeserved amount of respect from everyone, from those he employs to work around the house and from his daughters and their stepmother. All are to do as he says and to submit. He takes advantage of those in his charge and when the movie picks up, in the year 1892, we learn that everyone does do as they’re told… everyone except for Lizzie. She’s very strong willed and refuses to be ruled over. Lizzie has seizures, something he sees as an embarrassment to his name. He doesn’t even want her going to the theatre in case she has a ‘spell’ that others may see.
Lizzie is very kind to animals and staff, paying particular notice to the new maid, Bridget (Stewart) who starts teaching to read. The film then leads to Lizzie and Bridget having a lesbian affair. This is handled quite beautifully with one woman offering love to someone who had never been allowed to experience it before. Before this, we see Andrew at his worst after he discovers that Lizzie had pawned some of her mother’s jewelry. He does something appalling and Lizzie lets him know that she’ll not be victimized by his fear tactics. Soon after she finds out that her father is changing his will. This is when it’s suggested that a plan has already been in place for her to murder her father for his misdeeds and his mistreatment of her, her sister and of Bridget.
The blows to the head come next, which are no surprise, of course, but it’s gripping to find out how it actually happens and what happens directly after. Since all we ever really knew of were the whacks themselves, if it were Lizzie, we, at this point, could certainly find a reason to empathize. Even though they were beyond brutal to sit through and watch. So brutal it hardly leaves room for doubt who would have delivered to these people such savagery but someone who was greatly pained by them. The film’s pacing can be slow at times but the sets, the acting and the history of it all are fascinating. Stewart and Sevigny are fantastic, and I have to strongly suggest you see this for the performances if nothing else.
In Phoenix, it’s playing at the following theatres: