Lizzie Kristen Stewart Chloe SevignyYear: 2018
Director(s): Craig William Macneill
Writer(s): Bryce Kass
Region of Origin: USA
Rating: R
Color, 105 mins

Synopsis: A psychological thriller based on the infamous 1892 murders of the Borden family. (Source)

Lizzie Borden’s story, or what we know of it, is the stuff of legend. Though she’s tied to an infamously unsolved murder, there’s still a lot we don’t know, and it’s here where Lizzie finds its footing. While reimagining horror myths may be all the rage, rarely do these stories get the same kind of care and depth that director Craig William Macneill gives Lizzie. As he did with his previous film, Boy, Macneill’s latest is a psychological portrait first and foremost. The film’s centerpiece is a gruesome murder, but Macneill’s focus is the humanity behind it – the repression, the strength, and the catharsis. In doing so, Macneill reinvents Lizzie as a timely feminist icon, a woman who couldn’t be tied down to what those around her wanted her to be. The results pull in some top-notch performances and an atmosphere that chills to the bone.

In 1892, Lizzie Borden (Chloe Sevigny) is a self-imposed outcast. She harbors a tumultuous relationship with her wealthy father, doesn’t care what others think and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. This set of traits keeps the spinster at a distance from everything and anyone. Lizzie is further emboldened when a new housemaid joins the ranks. Bridget (Kristen Stewart), an Irish immigrant, is the opposite of Lizzie, seemingly shy and soft spoken. Despite being held to a rigorous set of rules and locked within an insidiously abusive relationship, Bridget keeps to herself and chooses not to stir things up. Slowly but surely, Lizzie and Bridget begin to bond, finding in each other an escape from their restrictive surroundings. Together, they decide to commit a cleansing act of violence that will change their lives forever.

While this is a horror film, it’s one based on the terrors that surround us on a daily basis. If hell is people, then this is a striking chronicle of two women using their wits to navigate a treacherous patriarchy. In this way, Lizzie and Bridget’s relationship does the heavy lifting. Both women get equal footing at times as they find different ways to maintain agency without losing themselves. And as the film dives into who these women are, Macneill’s methodical approach captures repression and genuine connection with understated precision. Add to this film’s shifting structure, and we’re treated to two complex women who are more than they care to let on and more than anyone allows themselves to see. Because of Macneill’s patience, the film’s climactic acts of raw aggression are earned and cut to the core.

Lizzie review Kristen Stewart Chloe SevignyWith such a heavy focus on character, Sevigny and Stewart shine. Sevigny’s Borden is incredible to watch. Sevigny gives an internal performances that feels so real and nuanced. Though we bring a lot of our own bias to the role, the actress subverts expectation, always bringing a haunting, human touch to each twist. With Bridget, Stewart shows us a side of her we’ve never seen before. There’s a sincerity to her that’s blinding, and though she appears to be meek, Stewart’s delivery hints that there’s more than meets the eye. It’s another knockout role for the actress, who continues to transform herself in surprising ways. Together, both women overlap and contrast, rendering two sides of the same coin and embodying the film’s tension with ease. As for the men, Jamey Sheridan and Denis O’Hare play two characters we don’t hesitate to hate. Both convey their toxic masculinity without feeling like caricatures. Lastly, Kim Dickens adds even more texture as Lizzie’s sister, Emma. She’s both at odds with her sister but also wields a loyalty towards her that we feel on a deeper level.

Lizzie doesn’t have any cheap jump scares or a high body count, and that’s what makes it so satisfying. Rather than being a generic slasher, this is a horror film steeped in flesh-and-blood, evoking the torture that can come from those that we’re supposed to trust. Blending complex romance with constant dread, Macneill crafts an antiheroine in the most unsuspecting place. Films like this are frankly too few and far between, and this newfound depth and empathy given Borden’s story is hard to shake.