Hollywood can't seem to bury the hatchet on Lizzie Borden. Every year, there seems to be some sort of movie or TV show revisiting the most notorious murder case in the history of Fall River. It's to the point where there's nothing left to say. But against the odds, writer Bryce Kass and director Craig William Macneill fashion a fresh approach by reimaging it in a feminist frame perfect for the #MeToo era. It's simply called "Lizzie," and what lifts it above the usual "40 whacks" boilerplate is the sly way in which they visualize the story as a gay noir in which Chloe Sevigny's Lizzie falls for the family's new domestic, Bridget (Kristen Stewart), and conspires with her to kill the bane of both their existences, dear old daddy, Andrew Borden.
As played by Jamey Sheridan, randy Andy is very much a 19th century Harvey Weinstein, bullying his family about and taking sexual liberties with the terrified new maid. So, killing him doesn't seem like an appalling idea, especially after Lizzie learns she's been — excuse the expression — axed from Daddy's will, which now divvies everything to her hated stepmother, Abby (Fiona Shaw), and unctuous uncle, John Morse (Denis O'Hare). But then that's the sort of thing that happens when your father catches you handling his property, which in this case is Bridget.
Let the swinging of sharp implements — and moral judgments — begin. And, not so shockingly, we find ourselves rooting for the lady committing patricide. Yes, when blade meets skull, it's like a cathartic release. Ditto for when Abby suddenly comes down with the same "splitting" headache. In many ways, it's like Jane Austen hooking up with Stephen King, as blood and women's rights gush together in an act of uncivil liberty. Murder never felt so good.
True, the gay angle isn't all that new. Rumors have raged for decades that Lizzie preferred women, but this is the first treatment in which she gets to act on it. And, boy, is it hot when Bridget buttons up Lizzie's dress! Yes, you read that right; putting clothes on — not taking them off — is Macneill's idea of eroticism. Darned if he isn't onto something, saving the eventual full nudity until it's time to slay, not play. All the better to rinse off all that blood spatter later!
It's a strange display of eroticism, but that's what makes "Lizzie" — excuse me again — a cut above. Clearly, Macneill and Kass believe in the power of the slow burn. Some might find their laid-back approach a drain on the patience. But I found it richly intriguing, as Lizzie and Bridget evolve from barely making eye contact to making full-body contact over a teasingly long period of time. And when they do lock lips, watch out! It's killer! Or, should I say killers?
First the cops arrive, followed by the fun, as the forbidden lovers cook up a cockeyed alibi that allows them both — excuse me one last time — to get off. Yet, this is no happy love story. History simply won't allow it; sending Bridget way out West during the final credits, and sinking Lizzie into a whole world of loneliness and hurt. But, hey, at least Lizzie ends up with the house. And in the end, isn't that all she really wanted?