Some spoilers for “Lizzie” ahead.
Leave it to Chloe Sevigny and her long-time passion project “Lizzie” to unleash the first truly jaw-dropping scene of Sundance 2018. In Craig William Macneill’s take on the 1892 murders of Abby and Andrew Borden, long believed to be at the hand of Andrew’s daughter Lizzie (Sevigny), the infamous American criminal (she wasn’t ever convicted, but the court of public opinion is another matter) gets the chance to redraw her own history and motivations.
While Macneill’s film, which premiered at the Library theater on Friday night at Sundance, opens with the murders already completed in seriously bloody fashion, it then flashes back to the six months leading up to the horrific deaths. By the time Andrew and Abby bite it, Macneill and Sevigny, aided by Bryce Kass’ script, have made a strong case for why Lizzie did what she (might have) done, motivated by her nefarious dad and her forbidden love for family maid Bridget (Kristen Stewart).
It’s only then that Sevigny and Macneill unspool the film’s show-stopping sequence, which sees both Sevigny and Stewart stripping totally nude to do the deeds (all the better to not have bloody clothes to explain), resulting in a combination of body-centric terror that is both carnal and wholly shocking.
It’s a sequence that drew gasps from the audience, and plenty of appreciation, so when Sevigny and company (sadly, Stewart was not present at the premiere) hit the stage for a post-screening Q&A, it was one of the first things the audience asked about.
Like “Lizzie,” which gives a feminist treatment to Borden’s story – at the very least, it gives her big motivations and actual agency – the audience question was rooted in respect both for Sevingy and her character. This wasn’t a salacious query, and Sevigny responded in kind.
When asked how she found the confidence to perform such a grueling and violent scene while also being totally nude, Sevigny said, “It’s just a really carnal moment, and I just thought it would be really arresting. I trusted in Craig’s restraint and Noah’s [Greenberg, cinematographer] beautiful photography that they would make me look good. Now I feel extremely vulnerable! I just wanted the movie to kind of culminate, everybody’s kind of waiting for that moment, and when it happens, to have it be that arresting would make it so much more powerful.”
The actress was also eager to answer the question of confidence, adding, “I’m still not confident enough to really own that, but here I am! Watching all the cuts on this mini iPad, I was like, ‘oh wait, people are gonna see it like that’…On the day [we shot it], I had just turned 42, and I was like, ‘what 42-year-old woman does that?'”
The killin’ kind.
“Lizzie” premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.