If Sundance 2018 was the year of pictures about women who had had enough, then Lizzie Borden was their patron saint. The story is familiar to any of us who played the kind of sleepover games that were designed to scare your friends or at least were into macabre jump rope rhymes. “Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks, when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.” So the poem goes.
And so the picture goes, Lizzie, is a portrait of desperation. But if the rhyme was enough to cement Lizzie in the cultural consciousness for centuries to come, this portrait of her life and times leading up to the crime fills in a flood of nuance we never saw coming, but perhaps should have.
The wealthy Borden family has it’s issues, not least of which is a creepy dad and a controlling uncle. Then there’s Lizzie’s failure to confirm and “old maid” status causing friction. There are money problems and family tensions and put-upon staff, all suffering under the mandatory silent desperation of the era.
This telling of the tale follows a theory that Lizzie fell in love with Bridget Sullivan, a housemaid being grossly abused by Mr. Borden, and the two are pushed to hatch a revenge if only to regain their freedom.
It’s a slow burn that will prove a challenging sit for some, but Chloe Sevigny and Kristin Stewart will keep most eyes glued to the screen. It’s not just that their performances are characteristically captivating, but that the chemistry between them crackles and sparks off the screen.
While we can’t ever know what really happened, Lizzie gives our heroine a sympathetic narrative of the kind schoolyard rhymes can never afford. And by the time the fireworks go off, you may find yourself on a different side of the equation than you might have imagined.