11th October 2018 6.15pm at Picturehouse Central
13th October 2018 1.00pm at Prince Charles Cinema
20th October 2018 3.15pm at Ciné Lumière
The Borden household harbours something far worse than malicious ghosts in its dark doorways and candle-lit corridors. Craig Macneill’s new historical thriller, Lizzie, tells the harrowing true story of a family haunted by buried secrets and deep-rooted resentments, charting the horror that unfolds from a lifetime of oppression.
When maid Bridget (Kristen Stewart) takes up her new post under Andrew Borden (Jamie Sheridan), she expects very little in the way of affection. However, after striking up a friendship with his daughter, the eponymous Lizzie (Chloë Sevigny), she finds an unlikely ally. But this is not a hospitable environment for love of any kind, and the prospect of their happiness is preyed upon by monsters in the night who creep along creaking floorboards. In the lead roles, Stewart and Sevigny are the perfect combination. While the former is introverted and world-weary, the latter has a fire behind her eyes, a rebellious spark that keeps us rooting for her even as we question her crumbling psychological stability.
It’s our connection to these characters that keeps us in thrall. In terms of plotting, the film suffers slightly from an unavoidable lack of narrative revelation that comes with the notoriety of the source material. McNeil is all too aware that the story itself cannot be new and shocking, only the way he recounts it. This is probably why he chooses to begin his tale with its bloody end. What creates intrigue instead is a complex exploration of character motivation. It’s less about who did it, and more about why. Through an examination of timeless feminist themes, the feature paints a claustrophobic portrait of women bound and gagged by the patriarchy.
Chilling cinematography helps construct this cold and bleak environment. This is, pointedly, a house and not a home: a sombre palette steeps each room in a funeral veil; light is stifled but an ominous red glow leaks out from under doors. The only safe space is the pigeon coop – until it, too, becomes stained with blood. Tension mounts until finally something snaps, culminating in a visceral and deeply unsettling sequence that makes you want to close your ears as much as your eyes. Despite the many glimpses of sensual exploration through soft touches and smooth skin, complete nudity occurs at the most unnatural moment; it’s jarring and deeply disturbing.
Macneil took on a big challenge when respinning this infamous tale. In many ways, Lizzie rises admirably to the task, delicately planting the seed of sexuality within a bleak and oppressive environment, juxtaposing female friendship with brutal butchery. The film speaks to the rage of the contemporary feminist, the central relationship sustaining suspense as we are left wondering if any beauty can really blossom from the shadows.
Lizzie is released nationwide on 14th December 2018.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Lizzie here: