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MOVIES: (LFF 2018) Lizzie - Review

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Based on the true story of the Lizzie Borden case, which has been ever so popular in adaptions in the past, ranging to literature, film, theatre and television, Lizzie offers up director Craig Macneill's own take on what happened the night her stepmother and father were found in her house with fatal axe wounds, casting Chloƫ Sevigny in the titular role.

Putting the spotlight on Sevigny for much of the film as we explore the events that led up the murder, Lizzie examines why she would go to such lengths against her own flesh and blood. Whilst to this day no answer is ever known to the public, it does present an excellent opportunity for a psychological thriller that never really traverses into the horror genre as much as other works have done. It's a slow-burner that moves almost a bit too slowly, taking its time to get to where it's going. But whilst it lacks in speed and agency it makes up for in atmosphere and dread. Macneill manages to create a inhospitable and foreboding house and populates it with male characters who all make your skin crawl. Jamey Sheridan's Andrew, Lizzie's father, is always intimidating whenever he's on screen and fits the villainous role ever so nicely for much of this film.

Sevigny puts in one of her best performances as the character, establishing herself as a quiet but ferocious presence over the course of the film. This isn't the sort of movie where she's going to erupt into an Oscar-friendly scenery-chewing speech, instead, her performance is far more nuanced and at times, incredibly subtle. When paired with the equally talented, and equally understated Kristen Stewart, who plays the the new Irish servant of the Borden household Bridget, the two have an instant chemistry that is really, the film's biggest strength, despite how different the two characters are. It's something that it makes the most out of in their scenes together, and it feels all the more real and believable because of this.

The melodrama that is present here never escalates to the point where it overshadows the entire film, and it is kept in check over the course of the script. Much of the direction is focused on fleshing out the location that the film takes place in, with ninety per cent of the drama taking place in or in the gardens of the Borden household. The details present in the house make it feel all the more lived in and help define Andrew Borden's character from the simple lack of electricity and warmth that he brings to his home, even though he clearly has the money to do so.

This film knows how to keep audiences in suspense and even though it's based on a true story, the tension is always there. It's downright chilling at times especially on the day of the murder, and Lizzie really embraces its thriller aspects for a rewarding experience. The film elaborates on the rumour that there was a possible romance between Lizzie and Bridget, even if it was unproven in real life, and makes it one of the key talking points in this mystery. And given the focus of this romance in the film, it's important that Lizzie acts more as a character study rather than a straightforward slasher. This way, rather than focusing on just one of the characters, the film can put the spotlight on both, allowing Sevigny and Stewart to shine as a result.

Tickets for Lizzie are currently available at the London Film festival for only one day that it is airing, Thursday 11 October, and can be purchased here.

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