Lizzie Borden Took an Ax,
directed by Nick Gomez
(Sony, 2014)

The title alone tells you that Lizzie Borden Took an Ax supports the theory that 32-year-old Lizzie killed her father Andrew Borden and stepmother Abby Borden, each with a significant number of whacks to the head.

It is, more than 100 years after the fact, still the popular theory. Lizzie Borden was, of course, acquitted for the murders but, like the O.J. Simpson of her day, she remained guilty in the court of public opinion for the rest of her life.

This made-for-Lifetime movie scores a win by casting Christina Ricci -- who, ever since her defining portrayal of Wednesday Addams in 1991, has brought a certain gothic creep factor to her roles -- as the titular Lizzie. As the guilty party who, for the entirety of the film, protests her innocence with a wide-eyed waifish quality that would sway even the most hard-hearted juror, Ricci devours the role with relish.

While the movie is not entirely strict with the facts, it adheres fairly closely to certain aspects of the well-known tale.

On Aug. 4, 1892, the Bordens were brutally killed in their Fall River, Massachusetts, home. Lizzie, who first discovered the bodies, was also the prime suspect, and the evidence -- although not overwhelming enough to persuade a jury -- was pretty strong against her. There were a few other suspects, however, although this movie largely glosses over them.

Besides Ricci, the movie stars Stephen McHattie and Sara Botsford as Andrew and Abby Borden, Clea DuVall as Lizzie's older sister Emma, Gregg Henry as prosecutor Hosea Knowlton, Billy Campbell as defense attorney Andrew Jennings and Hannah Anderson as Bridget Sullivan, the Bordens' housemaid.

It's a strong cast and a strong story, and the movie is atmospheric and very watchable -- marred only by a jarring rock-and-bluegrass soundtrack that lifts viewers right out of late 19th-century New England. What a lousy choice!

review by
Tom Knapp

10 September 2016

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