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Lizzie
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Lizzie

Lizzie

The world knows exactly one thing about Lizzie Borden: She hacked her parents with an ax. A lot. Not quite the 40 whacks each of the children’s nursery rhyme, but enough to slice her father’s face into mush, a crime so grisly, newspapers in 1892 wrote it could only have been committed by “somebody insane or a sane person whose heart is as black with hatred as hell itself.” Director Craig William Macneill’s “Lizzie” has another theory. The director re-imagines the murderess (Chloë Sevigny) as a powerless victim who literally slays the patriarchy. It’s a simple story made to rouse modern hearts, and the performances and cinematography are so good, the film nearly pulls off the trick. But after a solid hour of Hammer-esque tension, Macneill can’t resist bludgeoning us with an extended replay of the attack, which, ironically, turns out to be the dullest sequence in Borden’s miserable tale.

First, it’s important to know that the Bordens were rich, which is why we know Lizzie’s name at all. She and her spinster older sister Emma (Kim Dickens), an invisible presence, were the Menendez Brothers of the Gilded Age, two siblings in line to inherit a fortune. (Though at 22, considerably younger than in Macneill’s portrayal, Lizzie’s marriage prospects wouldn’t have been as dire.) Still, a wealthy man’s daughter in the Gilded Age had fewer options than an heiress today — instead of designing a vanity line of shoes, Lizzie was stuck at home fretting that her father Andrew (a scowling Jamey Sheridan) would will his fortune to his vile brother John (Denis O’Hare), figuring that women couldn’t handle the power.