The name LIZZIE will sound familiar to many. Even to kids, LIZZIE is a well-repeated nursery rhythm containing more sinister connotations. LIZZIE is also the first name of Lizzie Borden who was accused but acquitted of the vicious hatchet murders of her stepmother and father. The incident occurred in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1892.
Why would this dated biography be of interest to today’s audiences? For one, Lizzie is alleged to be a lesbian and the script by Bryce Kass re-imagines Lizzie to be guilty of the heinous crime. Lizzie is also highly abused by the male gender in a time where gay relationships were disallowed. One scene has her uncle grabbing her by the throat threatening her.
The film is bookended with the ghastly murder of a man hacked to death. The guilt falls on the daughter Lizzie which the film sets to prove committed the deed despite her acquittal.
The film goes back 6 months with the arrival of a female at a three story house, obviously owned by a wealthy family. The female is revealed to be Brigitte Sullivan (Kristen Stewart), a single Irish woman, who has come to live with the family and work as a live-in maid. Lizzie, of the film title, is living with her wealthy father (Jamey Sheridan), stepmother (Fiona Shaw) and sister (Kim Dickens). Her father is up to no good, while her stepmother silently enables. Worst still, it seems that her uncle (Denis O’Hare) may end up controlling her inheritance. Socially isolated, with her comings and goings strictly monitored, Lizzie finds solace in her pet pigeons.
Brigitte works hard. The patriarch of the family recognizes Brigitte’s hard work but his visits to her room prove him to be a sex abuser. At the same time, Lizzie and Brigitte start an affair.
The script ups the angst with the father becoming more abusive towards Lizzie. Lizzie also suffers from fits.
The film benefits from the creation of claustrophobia of the prison of the family home. Lizzie is discouraged from going out and if allowed, must return by midnight. The camera is quick to always show the high walls as if acting like imprisoning barriers. When Lizzie does get to go out, she is attacked by society as the Borden family are cheap and disliked large house renters, still using candle light instead of the new electricity of the times. The audience is made to feel that Lizzie has no way to escape psychically and emotionally. Which drives her towards the act.
Whereas in real life Lizzie was acquitted for the fact that the jury could not imagine a woman performing such a violent act, the film shows otherwise with Lizzie hacking her father to death with repeated blows, and in the nude with blood splattered all over her body. This shows director Macneill over-confident that he has convinced his audience believe that Lizzie is so desperate that she has nothing to lose (she would otherwise lose her inheritance as well as love for Brigitte) but to commit gruesome murder.
Performances are top-notch with Stewart getting away with her Irish accent. But the main star of the film is Noah Greenberg lush cinematography that captures the period atmosphere of the times and the claustrophobic imprisonment of the girls.