Lizzie falls in the sweet spot of my Venn diagram of interests: True crime, smashing the patriarchy, lesbian drama and Kristen Stewart. Unfortunately it failed to hit my cinematic G-spot. What was sold as a sexy gothic thriller is actually a dull family drama in which two characters literally get axed off at the end.
We open on the brutal crime scene of Lizzie Borden’s (Chloë Sevigny) murdered father and stepmother in 1892 Massachusetts. As the prime suspect, Lizzie is questioned by the police. Flashback to several months ago, shortly after the arrival of the Bordens’ new live-in Irish maid, Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart). There’s a lot of pearl clutching when the fiercely independent Lizzie attends the opera unaccompanied, only to suffer a seizure. After a particularly bad episode, Bridget helps nurse her mistress back to health. In return Lizzie teaches her to read. The two develop a friendship that involves passing notes to each other like school girls. Under the family’s domineering and abusive patriarch, Andrew Sullivan (Jamey Sheridan), Lizzie and Bridget find solace in one another. Things come to a head when Andrew catches the two hooking up in the barn one afternoon. With few options and no financial power, Lizzie and Bridget hatch a murderous plan.
Director Craig William Macneill takes what could’ve been a slow boil murder story and manages to make it dull. There is so much restraint throughout the whole movie that it’s straight up boring. I could’ve watched Sevigny and Stewart gaze into each other’s eyes and almost make out for hours. Instead we got two hours of the family haggling over inheritance money. Give me more sexual tension! Sevigny and Stewart have great chemistry together, but if there had been just a little bit more development between them, maybe their tryst wouldn’t have felt like such a huge jump.
I’ll give the film points for shooting a lesbian sex scene the way real women have sex and not like two Barbies scissoring. I’m also glad that an openly queer person is playing a queer character. It is interesting that Lizzie and Bridget are fully clothed during their brief dalliance, but only get naked when they’re hacking her parents to death. Yeah, yeah, it’s so they don’t get blood on anything. Male gaze or murderously practical? Personally, I think this film would’ve benefitted from having a queer female perspective. It made a significant difference in the movie Carol, although both the leads are straight.
As I’ve written about before, Sevigny was disappointed with the final cut. After seven years trying to produce it, Lizzie didn’t quite turn out like the “Capote meets Black Swan” hybrid she’d envisioned. Nevertheless, she and Stewart are hot together in what has been the gayest horror movie since Nightmare on Elm Street 2.
Header image credit: Roadside Attractions