The story of Lizzie Borden is one that’s captivated the American psyche for well over 100 years now, commonly being referred to as the first “celebrity” killers in the country’s history. This week’s new movie Lizzie tells her story, or at least a version of it.
Chloë Sevigny plays Lizzie, a woman well past the common marrying age for the time who still lives with her father and stepmother. One day a new housekeeper named Bridget (Kristen Stewart) comes to work at the house and eventually becomes both emotionally and physically involved with Lizzie. The older Bordon’s oppressive and abusive behavior becomes too much for the two women and, in some way, he and his wife end up dead, leading to rumor and speculation in the small Massachusetts town where they live.
The two women stand close together on the first poster against a white background, with the light from behind them creating an ax-shaped shadow on the ground. That’s a bit on-the-nose, but it’s actually nicely countered by the positive critics’ quotes that fill the rest of the white space.
Lizzie’s father is not a good man, we see in the first trailer, assaulting the new housemaid almost as soon as she arrives. Bridget’s fear of him and the growing connection – which we see becomes a physical and romantic attraction – between her and Lizzie is soon found out by him and so, with all that happening, Lizzie takes violent matters into her own hands.
It’s a relatively short, or at least moderately-paced, trailer that shows off the period tone and dark story of the movie. The chemistry between Sevigny and Stewart is not only seen but praised through the appearance of quotes from early screenings that are displayed over the footage. Sparse, melancholic music plays to heighten the tension and sense of dread.
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A doomed and tragic romance that ends in murder is the story sold in the first TV spot, debuting in late August. Much of the story framing from the trailer is removed in favor of pulse-pounding quick cuts and shots of desperate conversations being had. A “digital spot” a short while later kept the focus on the tension while hinting at the friendship (and more) between Lizzie and Bridget.
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A first look still from the film was shared at the same time it was announced it would premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, with the movie being cited as one many critics were anxious to see there. While there the cast talked quite a bit about the film, with Sevigny commenting on the nudity at the core of one its centerpiece scenes and how this version of the story ties into the #metoo movement by being female-driven about about women reclaiming their power from men.
The buzz around the film led to a bidding war that eventually ended when Saban Films picked it up. Shortly after that Stewart addressed the timely themes of the movie as well as the realities that needed to be represented regarding how long it took for women in that period to take their clothes off and what constituted a good reason to do so.
A clip featuring a pivotal moment from the story was released just a couple days before the movie hit theaters.
The focus of the campaign is less on the murders themselves as it is on the relationship between Lizzie and Bridget. That’s what is driving the drama forward here, with the murders that someone commits being a result of that, not something separate from it. You see that in the trailer as well as in the publicity efforts.
It’s the star power of the actors involved that has the most potential to get people’s attention. My guess is the Lizzie Borden case isn’t as well known now as it was several years ago, so it’s on Stewart and Sevigny to bring out the public that has come see them in other things.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.