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Here is a horror thriller – a conjectural drama based on a gruesome true story – in which the element of horror is treated circumspectly, almost dispassionately, as if to douse its mythic element in as much cold reality as possible.
It is the story of Lizzie Borden, who according to the famous rhyme “took an axe / And gave her mother forty whacks. / When she saw what she had done / She gave her father forty-one.” She was a real person. In 1892, Borden (played here by Chloë Sevigny) became prime suspect in the horrendous axe murders of her father Andrew (Jamey Sheridan) and hated stepmother Abby (Fiona Shaw) in Fall River, Massachusetts. Andrew, a wealthy, grasping individual presides over a controlling and abusive household after remarrying, cold and tyrannical towards Lizzie herself and hateful in various ways to everyone else, including Lizzie’s sister Emma (Kim Dickens) and the housemaid Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart), who forms an intense relationship with Lizzie.
The grisly story has been adapted many times, tongue in and out of cheek, but it may be that screenwriter Bryce Kass here took inspiration from the 1984 novel by Ed McBain. As well as giving Lizzie a nervous fainting condition, Kass invents an anonymous letter writer, whose modus operandi is never satisfactorily explained, and also imagines a notably lubricious aspect to the murder itself, which happens to involve the assailant taking precautions to prevent getting bloodstains on clothing: precautions that turn out to be ineffective, though oddly without catching the police’s attention.
The story of the frustrated, spinsterish, passionate young woman is familiar enough. Weirdly, this reminded me of Terence Davies’s film A Quiet Passion, his study of Emily Dickinson.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Lizzie review – mythic axe murders get an edgy update | Horror films