Director: David Dunn Jr.
Writer: Leif Holt, Marielle Seastrom
Producer: Matthew Mosher, Leif Holt, Aaron Holt
Stars: Corbin Bernsen, Don Swayze, Gerry Bednob, Shawna Waldron, Amanda Baker, Leif Holt, Caitlin Carmichael, Cindy Baer, Gary Busey
A troubled woman discovers that a repressed memory from her past is strangely connected to the legend of Lizzie Borden.
According to the infamous jump rope rhyme, “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.” Ms. Borden was subsequently acquitted at trial, although recounted tellings of her tale often omit that part. There also were only thirty axe wounds discovered across the two victims. But that is just one more fact that gets in the way of a 120-year-old log for the fires of a handful of movies inspired by the crimes.
“Lizzie” is the latest horror film to stoke that legend as a background for its fictional story. Lizzy Allen is a mentally and emotionally troubled young woman struggling to come to terms with an unresolved and unknown childhood trauma. Dr. Fredricks thinks that moving into her childhood home will help trigger the repressed memory, as will a generous dosage of psychotropic medication. As she continually downs her pills with an ever-present glass of wine, Lizzy instead uncovers a bizarre connection to the phantom of Lizzie Borden. The past and the present are then linked through nightmarish visions in a manner that spells trouble for everyone in Lizzy’s life.
The screenplay is credited to Leif Holt, who also appears in the film as Lizzy’s boyfriend Jason and serves a third duty as producer. Marielle Seastrom is given the curious credit of “revisions by,” a designation that makes more sense once the script is seen in action.
“Lizzie” plays like a collision of unfinished ideas and unrelated scenes. It feels as if a committee could not agree on which turns to take and so they started filming without a clear direction on where things should go. Characters perform actions without any justification, such as Jason bringing a gun into the house for no reason other than because the script needs it later. Unnecessary sequences like a montage of coffee being prepared to a nondescript rock song with a screeching guitar do nothing but fill out the runtime. Entire characters could be wholly excised and the film would actually become less confused about why so many irrelevant threads are being boiled in a pot.
When a film resorts to stunt casting to fill the roles, the intention is clear about just how seriously the production takes the material and its intent to deliver quality entertainment. Yet “Lizzie” does not even make smart use of its “name” talent. Don Swayze has one line in two scenes. He cannot possibly add enough interest in the film to warrant inclusion with such a brief part. Porn starlet Aurora Snow appears topless in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sex scene that avoids showing her face. Why cast a recognized person at all if any random pair of breasts would suffice?
“40 Year Old Virgin” comedian Gerry Bednob shows up as the comic relief in a presumably improved extended cameo that is painfully unfunny with ad-libbed dialogue featuring more awkward pauses and stutters than laughs. Too many scenes such as his come off as unrehearsed, unprepared, and unprofessional.
Amanda Baker stars as Lizzy. Her acting pedigree includes several years worth of daytime soap operas and those overly dramatic chops are misplaced in a performance meant to be treated seriously. Hers is the type of character chained to a worthless boyfriend who thinks it is funny to frighten his emotionally damaged girlfriend by wearing a ski mask and terrorizing her with a bloody hand axe. He even openly nicknames her “Crazy” as a pronoun.
It is unfortunate that the tie to Lizzie Borden’s legend does not relate to Lizzy’s story in a sensible way, because the Borden case is something that “Lizzie” depicts with some accuracy. In a flashback to the nineteenth century murders, the bodies of Lizzie’s parents end up where they did in reality in a plausibly presented scenario. The film even cleverly weaves in a detail about the Borden’s maid Bridget also being referred to by the name Maggie.
Which makes it stranger that the attention to detail is lacking significantly in so many other places. In an attempt to show too much of Amanda Baker’s sideboob during a shower scene, she turns so far that her breast covering is visible. The contents of a grocery bag change according to the take being cut to. Actors miss each other’s lips when they kiss. And when an axe blade meets a skull, the prop body bounces around like a spring-mounted baseball bobblehead.
“Lizzie” may have started on a path of purpose, but it comes together as an uneven collection of scattered performances and wandering plotlines. Questionable casting and careless continuity hint at a set where the filmmakers simply shrugged their shoulders while the camera rolled. As should be expected in such a case, “Lizzie” ends up with a confused story that makes up for a lack of chills by filling the space with disappointment.
Review Score: 35