Massachusetts director Nick Gomez (Drowning Mona) is more used to working on television shows than feature films and it shows in this Lifetime television movie based on the life of Lizzie Borden.
Christina Ricci is an actress I enjoy sometimes, but her performances range from good to poor depending on the movie she is in, and sadly this is not one of her better roles. The cast isn’t a bad one, with Clea Duvall appearing as Lizzie’s sister, Emma Borden. It just all feels very forced, which is a shame because the tale is one that, with better casting, a deeper budget, more delicate writing and a steadier director’s hand, could be very good indeed.
It’s a hot Massachusetts day in 1892 and Lizzie Borden (Ricci) find her parents murdered, and as the police investigate the violent murders of her father and step-mother, the fingers all seem to be pointing towards Lizzie herself. A mild mannered Sunday school teacher, Lizzie is put on trial as opinions are divided and the name of Lizzie Borden is immortalised by the numerous stories that surrounded her case, carving her into the history books.
It is obviously an intriguing plot, and director Gomez appears to be trying to do something stylish and different with the film, the music is heavy on guitars and banjo sounds but it just doesn’t work, it almost felt like too vivid an attempt to be different just for the sake of it. There is an underlying smell of impending doom present as we see Lizzie wander around the family home and appear in doorways, almost like a spectre or a phantom. It is these moments that I enjoyed about the film, while the dialogue, some of the performances and the overall way the plot plays out that let it down. The cinematography may have benefited from a type of aged and sepia style, flickering and old like a tarnished photograph, but instead we are shown a clear and bland cinematography reminiscent of most Lifetime films. It just feels weighed down by limitations and an obvious requirement to remain below a particular rating. I felt like there should have been more emphasis on madness, on the glares of the townsfolk as they judged Lizzie, but it just plodded along in a way that just didn’t provide any sort of originality.
I watched the film in hope that we would finally be given a Lizzie Borden biopic that worked, with a well told story filled with interesting dialogue and well-built characters, but instead I sat and felt bored as I watched a tedious, flat and uninteresting film unfold. It’s a shame, and there are a couple of moments that peaked my interest for a minute or two, but this is just not worth spending 87 minutes on, in my view.
Lizzie Borden Took an Axe will be released, in the UK, on DVD on August 18th, 2014, and is available on Netflix Streaming in the United States.