REVIEW: Shudder Exclusive ‘Lizzie’ Spins a New Tale Out of an Infamous One

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Everyone knows the story of Lizzie Borden. It’s a one that has been retold time and time again in solo films, mini-series, and even the long-standing fantasy horror show Supernatural has even taken a whack at it. In the Shudder Exclusive Lizzie, we get a fresh look on the centuries old crime.

Lizzie which debuted at Sundance in 2018, is both a biopic and a thriller. Directed by Craig William Macneill, it stars Chloë Sevigny as Lizzie Borden and Kristen Stewart as Bridget Sullivan, the grounding force for Lizzie throughout the film. Based on the true story of Lizzie Borden, who was accused and then acquitted of the axe murder of her parents in 1892.

As a true crime buff myself, I’m very acquainted with the story of the Bordens. However, for those worried they’ve seen this movie before, there is actually no worry to be had. The majority of retellings of the Borden axe murders focus on Lizzie as a woman who was heartless, a cold killer with a motive that was about selfish goals. However, Shudder’s Lizzie builds out the world she lived in, her motive, and draws the audience’s sympathy.

From her family, to her life in the aristocracy of River Falls, and ultimately her relationship with Bridget, the film does well to set the stage for Lizzie’s crimes. Given that Borden’s story has been retold many times and that her acquittal was on the basis of her status with only Lizzie knowing the truth, the film has the leeway within the historical context to build out a new narrative for its titular character.

The film focuses on Lizzie’s home-life, the emotional abuse she suffered, the potential sexual abuse, her potential illnesses, and her sexuality and romance with their maid Bridget. The film effectively fills the powder keg that is the Borden household at a painstaking pace. With each murder victim having a narrative of “they deserved it” being built around them.

As much as the film is about showing the trauma inflicted on Lizzie by her father, the center of this story is a forbidden romance between Lizzie and Bridget. Lizzie is an aristocrat. Bridget is an Irish maid, a servant in the Borden’s household. But beyond all of that, their romance was taboo, with the film showing Lizzie’s father calling her an abomination.

The romance is physical and the chemistry between Sevigny and Stewart is beautiful and feels real. However, the down time it occupies does it a disservice. With a run time of 205-minutes, the romance is too surface without enough depth, which shouldn’t be the case with the amount of time in the film.

In addition to that, the pacing is slow, with moments of silence that are meant to build a slow-burn effect but sadly, it doesn’t succeed. This is in part due to the well-known story, and viewers knowing the outcome in the last 20-minutes, but ultimately it is a film with big moments and a lot of downtime in between.

That being said, those big moments are visceral. The dominance and cruelty that Andrew Borden shows his daughter is shocking, specifically his slaughtering of her pigeons. This is amplified by Sevigny’s delivery of both utter fear of his violence and mounting resistance as she finds her power in her love for Bridget.

As you can assume for a film on a streaming service whose brand is horror, the best moments are those that circle around the murder. The opening of the film delivers striking visuals of the bodies of the Bordens and then cuts to the story.

When we see how they got there in the end, Sevigny is terrifying. Naked, with axe in hand, she brutally executes her father and her stepmother. When Bridget attempts to help, its shown that although we are supposed to be sympathetic to her, Lizzie’s ability to kill is not to be taken lightly.

Overall, Lizzie weaves a new narrative of deep sympathy for Lizzie’s situation and ultimately her assumed crime, but its painfully slow pacing keeps the impactful moments too detached to have the power it aims for. That being said, the performances from Sevigny and Stewart are great and their chemistry leaves me wanting to see them together as lovers in other films.

Press play for Sevigny’s performance and if you can make it through the first two acts, the finale is worth it.

Lizzie is available tomorrow, April 11th, exclusively on Shudder.


Lizzie
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Overall, Lizzie weaves a new narrative of deep sympathy for Lizzie’s situation and ultimately her assumed crime, but its painfully slow pacing keeps the impactful moments too detached to have the power it aims for. That being said, the performances from Sevigny and Stewart are great and their chemistry leaves me wanting to see them together as lovers in other films.