dir Craig William Macneill
scr Bryce Kass
prd Naomi Despres, Elizabeth Destro, Chloe Sevigny
with Chloe Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jamey Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Kim Dickens, Denis O'Hare, Jeff Perry, Daniel Wachs, Tara Ochs, Jay Huguley, Tom Thon, Jody Matzer
release US 14.Sep.18, UK 14.Dec.18
18/US 1h46
Woke women: Stewart and Sevigny

sheridan shaw ohare
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Lizzie The sensational true story of Lizzie Borden is told in an intriguingly naturalistic style by filmmaker Craig William Macneill. It's a remarkably thoughtful film, packed with insinuating plot points and earthy performances. And Macneill uses deliberately choppy editing to drop hints and reveal the chain of events out of sequence. It's rather chilly, and very cleverly made.

In 1892 Massachusetts, 32-year-old Lizzie (Sevigny) lives with her wealthy, strict father Andrew (Sheridan), meek older sister Emma (Dickens) and intense stepmother Abby (Shaw). They've just hired Bridget (Stewart) as a new housemaid, and she witnesses Andrew berating Lizzie for defying good society by attending the opera alone and refusing to bow down to male control. And when Andrew starts visiting Bridget in the night, she and Lizzie become secret friends. Meanwhile, Uncle John (O'Hare) comes to visit, conniving to steal the daughters' share of the family business.

Macneill stages this in a matter-of-fact style, opening with the aftermath of the grisly murders then shifting back as scenes quietly flow into each other. Characters resolutely avoid talking about what's important, but there's never a doubt about what people are thinking. Lizzie and Bridget certainly have more than a flicker of friendship, and both feel the oppression in a culture in which women are undervalued and dismissed as capable of making decisions about their lives. For today's audience, this may be motive enough for murder, but Andrew is hated by pretty much everyone he knows for his cruel business dealings.

Sevigny and Stewart deliver superbly expressive performances that rely on eye contact and physicality far more than words. The personalities of their characters come through very strongly, as does the chemistry between them. Sheridan and Shaw both have vivid moments, especially as it becomes increasingly clear just how hypocritical Andrew is. It's definitely difficult to feel any emotion when they are so brutally killed. Other characters hover around the edges pointedly adding to the family dynamic.

After the murders, as Lizzie becomes notoriously famous as the prime suspect, the film begins to cycle back and explore some elements what were hinted at or skipped over. This feels like a bit of a cheat as far as the storytelling goes, especially the depiction of the killings, which almost has a fantasy angle. But this sequence is superbly confrontational, both underpinning and subverting the film's central themes about the power of women in society. It leaves us shaken and hopefully even provoked.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality, violence 2.Oct.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall