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Chloe Sevigny Brings Lizzie Borden To Life

New film focuses on the notorious axe murders

Photo credit: Roadside Attractions

Bridget (Kristen Stewart) and Lizzie (Chloe Sevigny) steal an intimate moment in the new film "Lizzie."

Companion viewing

"The Legend of Lizzie Borden" (1975)

"The Weight of Water" (2000)

"Wild Nights With Emily" (2018)

In 1892 Lizzie Borden gained notoriety when she was accused of hacking her parents to death. A new film entitled "Lizzie" looks to the infamous case.

“Lizzie Borden took an ax, and gave her mother 40 whacks; When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.”

Maybe you remember this rhyme about the notorious ax murders of Andrew and Abby Borden. The couple was brutally murdered in their home and Andrew's daughter Lizzie was accused of the crime. The case remains unsolved to this day and still captures the imaginations of people.

One of the reasons it still fascinates is that Lizzie remains a bit of a blank slate because she never testified at her trial but insisted on her innocence. Multiple films have tried to imagine what might have pushed her to murder if she indeed was the person who swung that ax.

This new film stars Chloe Sevigny as Lizzie and gives her story a feminist spin. The film depicts Lizzie and the Borden family maid Bridget (Kristen Stewart) with compassion as both face restrictions of either gender or class. The film reminds us of how little power women often had in the 1800s. Bridget has to submit to Mr. Borden's late-night sexual assaults if she wishes to retain her job or receive a good reference to move on to another job. While Lizzie relies on her father for financial support and is threatened with being shipped off to some institution for her seizures. But the truth is that her father cannot tolerate her defiance of his will.

On one level the film's message is about not underestimating what a woman is capable of doing especially when her free will is being threatened. The irony being that jurors simply could not imagine a nice young lady like Lizzie being a brutal ax-wielding murderer.

Sevigny is wonderfully nuanced as Lizzie, capturing her quiet rebellion and steely determination to not be controlled by men. Part of that rebellion manifests itself in her friendship and love affair with Bridget. She seems to revel in breaking the dual taboos of lesbian love and falling in love with someone below her in social standing.

There are interesting elements in the film and Sevigny’s acting anchors the film with a compelling portrait. But the film as a whole never builds any real dramatic tension. Director Craig William Macneill never creates a world that feels fully lived in although he gets many facts of the case right especially in terms of how the dead bodies looked when found.

“Lizzie” (rated R for violence and grisly images, nudity, a scene of sexuality and some language) is worth seeing for Sevigny, but the rest of the film feels mundane by comparison.

In 1892 Lizzie Borden gained notoriety when she was accused of hacking her parents to death. A new film entitled "Lizzie" looks to the infamous case.

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