Sundance 2018 – Lizzie

On August 4th, 1892 Andrew and Abby Borden were found brutally murdered with an axe. One of the daughters, Lizzie Borden, was the main suspect but was later acquitted of the charges. The case remains technically unsolved to this day. The story of Lizzie Borden is ripe for a great film, but sadly Lizzie is not that.

Chloe Sevigny (playing Lizzie Borden) and Kristen Stewart (playing Bridget, the maid who becomes romantically involved with Lizzie) deserve better, and are giving performances that this film isn’t worthy of. They have a tender chemistry together, you really feel why they are drawn to each other. It doesn’t help that the dialogue they’re given by Bryce Kass is so generic and uninformative regarding the characters. Sevigny and Stewart do all they can to elevate it, but you can’t take a cat and ask it to bark like a dog. A bad script is a bad script regardless of who is delivering the lines.

Director Craig William Macneill disappointingly just seems to have almost nothing to say with this film/about its characters. His direction is incredibly boorish, mostly relying on point-and-shoot coverage. Very little does one of his shots tell you something in its construction or make you feel something about its characters. He’s not adept enough to harness the natural light and candlelight, much of the film is poorly lit. You ever watch a film and just wish Brian De Palma had directed it? It’s just begging for a sense of direction and visual ambition. Or hell, get a female director as they likely would have done a much better job communicating its feminist undertones. Instead we’re stuck with stale direction and flat themes thanks to Macneill.

The score by Jeff Russo is geared for a horror-thriller with tense strings and piano keys, but unfortunately the images it falls upon aren’t well constructed enough to support the moodiness of it. The sound mixing is particularly bad, I’ve seen enough films in the theater it screened at to know it wasn’t the theater’s fault. You strain to understand what characters are saying as the sound levels of their dialogue ranges from muttering to “PLEASE TURN IT DOWN”. I just hope that this turned out to be a very rough cut of the film, because it still needs significant work done on it.

All competition films are balloted and they give you one as you enter the theater. Each ballot has four ratings on it. Because Sundance refuses to admit that some bad films end up screening at the festival, the lowest rating you can give a film is “fair”. I was ready to select “fair” about 3o minutes into the film. Sometimes you start a film and you get about 15 minutes in when you realize in horror “oh no this isn’t good” and that it probably won’t get better. This was one of those times. Lizzie is a wasted opportunity, you’re just stuck for almost two hours watching who might as well have been a student filmmaker poorly direct two incredibly talented actresses. I just left the theater wondering, how the hell is a film about Lizzie Borden this boring?

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