Quick Hit: Somehow one of the most famous murders of all time turns into a boring lover’s tryst.
The deaths of the Borden family are among the most prominent of American Horror stories for being an overall mystery. To this day, though many have posited that the woman acquitted of the murder, Lizzie Borden, accomplished it, no one quite knows for sure. Director Craig William Macneill and writer Bryce Kass take inspiration from a book from the 1980s and put their own spin on the American tale.
We’re taken back to the 1890s to the Borden family. Our first glimpse of Lizzie (Chloë Sevigny) is before she goes to an operatic performance, alone. This is scandalous for a spinster to do, but she does it anyway, in defiance to her father Andrew’s (Jamey Sheridan) wishes. It’s only when she collapses at the theater after a fit of epilepsy do we start to realize there’s a lot at stake here, and Mr. Borden’s message is clear. He’ll control her life, or he’ll send her away to be institutionalized. In doing this, he brings in a new maid to help – Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart), an Irish immigrant who has nothing going for her. Indeed, she’s known by the near racial slur “Maggie” by many throughout the film, rather than by her own name.
A tentative friendship starts to form between the two women, with Lizzie taking an interest in Bridget and teaching her to read. Before long, notes are flying between the two women, and the sexual tension starts to grow. In some ways, it doesn’t quite fit, but it’s key to the story our directors are trying to form. Both Sevigny and Stewart sell the tension though, so we keep rolling along. The story continues down a path as we discover that Mr. Borden is sexually abusing Bridget, and so of course, all the paths cross and end with violence.
Throughout the film, we’re also given several plot points with a sleazy uncle who is attempting to cut the Borden girls out of the will, we’re given a subplot that revolves around anonymous letters, and we even cut away a few times to check out Lizzie’s birds before Andrew decides to eat them for dinner as part of a punishment for Lizzie. A lot of this is unnecessary, as it gives the feeling less of the tightly wound feel that this treatment would have benefitted from. The best moments come at the height of the tension, around 90 minutes in, from clashes between Bridget and Lizzie. But alas, by this point, you’re mainly shrugging your shoulders and just wondering if they’d be caught.
So the good performances go wasted throughout, and are the quietness of them is often is harsh conflict with the score. Someone obviously told Jeff Russo, who did the music, that this was going to be a straight horror film, as many of the compositions feel like they wouldn’t have been out of place in a Friday the 13th, what with their jarring tonal dissonance and the unfortunate side effect of muffling the voices while characters are speaking.
So is it good? No. But Kristen Stewart continues to surprise me as she manages to shine in movies that aren’t bright at all. I’m giving this one a “D+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"