The true story of Lizzie Borden, a young woman tried and acquitted in the 1892 murders of her father and stepmother.
For as long as I have been writing for the site, I have ridiculed films for feeling as if they were made for broadcast on the Lifetime Network. Well, here I am writing a review for a film made for that same network and I even enjoyed it. It doesn’t get much more humiliating than that. LIZZIE BORDEN TAKES AN AXE is a biopic about one of the most notorious murderers in American history. And who better to bring the legendary killer to life than Christina Ricci. An unconventional choice for sure since she spends so much time creating new trends like Riccing (stuffing herself into small spaces and yes, it’s a real thing and there’s photo evidence all over the internet). Add in other genre veterans like Clark Gregg (SLITHER) and Clea Duvall (THE FACULTY) under the direction of Nick Gomez who has spent the majority of his career directing episodes of television’s most highly rated crime shows including DEXTER, we end up with a tele-movie which is much better than many would expect.
Lizzie Borden (Christina Ricci) and her father Andrew Borden (Stephen McHattie) don’t always see eye to eye. He seems to be very controlling about how she lives her life. Lizzie isn’t one to follow the rules and goes to parties when she isn’t supposed to, charging clothes to her step-mother’s account, and stealing mirrors from the local beauty shop. Andrew is always there to clean up her messes but she insists on pushing all his buttons. One afternoon, everything changes when her step-mother and her father are brutally massacred in their home with an axe. When the authorities come in to investigate, the last person anyone suspects is Lizzie or her sister Emma (Clea DuVall). Then along comes prosecutor Hosea Knowlton (Clark Gregg), he begins asking all the questions everyone else was afraid to and the evidence starts to point directly at Lizzie. Soon, the entire town is buzzing about the case and Lizzie becomes a local celebrity despite the charges. The question everyone will be waiting to hear the answer for is if she’s guilty or not?
The movie has a really bizarre tone and much of it is the interpretation of the character by Ricci. While the rest of the characters are so straight and narrow, Lizzie seems to relish in her notoriety. She claims to be innocent and maintains the sentiment throughout, but is ready to make plans for the future just moments after the death of her parents. The character is likable and sympathetic in ways and you may even end up liking her. Clark Gregg is one of the greatest character actors working in either television or film. He brings a much needed balance to the quirkiness of Ricci’s performance, as does much of the remaining cast, including the underrated Clea DuVall.
If you know the story of Lizzie Borden, then you know exactly what the outcome of the film will be and it does follow the real incident rather closely. The actual act of the murders is never shown until the finale of the picture and for a made for TV flick I must say, it was actually pretty brutal looking. It doesn’t quite match the heights of violence or gore on a show like THE WALKING DEAD, but not bad at all. Watching the film sans commercials is much more rewarding and the flick zips by without even noticing.
LIZZIE BORDEN HAS AN AXE is a flick which works when it shouldn’t. The cast really brings the vision of director Gomez to life in a period film with a modern soundtrack that’s highly enjoyable. The film was a hit with viewers when it aired capturing 4.4 million viewers which was one of the biggest premieres for the network in close to a year (unless you count FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC which brought in 6.1 million viewers the week before but it was a remake). Still, not a shabby little film. *** (out of 5)