Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Lizzie Movie Poster Image
Alleged killer's dark back story has blood, rape, language.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 105 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Women of the 19th century were nearly powerless to decide their own fates.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lizzie is intelligent, analytical, resourceful, independent, and, possibly, a cold-blooded killer.


A woman raises an axe to repeatedly attack two victims. Sound effects and views from afar make it clear that the attack goes on long after death has been achieved. Blood is seen on nearby walls and covering the face of the attacker. The victims' bodies aren't shown until after. A man repeatedly rapes a woman off screen. A man pushes a woman against a wall by the throat and lifts her skirt, but a seeming rape is averted. A man viciously cuts the head off his daughter's pet pigeons and then forces her and the family to eat them for dinner. The bird's bloody heads are seen. A woman breaks a mirror and places the shards of glass on the floor outside a door where her father is forcing his maid to have sex. We hear him cry out as the barefoot man steps on the glass.


No unclothed sex is shown, but two women are seen nude for other reasons. Two clothed women kiss, moaning and breathing heavily. One puts her hand under the other's skirt.


"F--k," "c--t," and "bitches."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lizzie is a graphic retelling of the story of the sensational, unsolved 19th century axe murders of Lizzie Borden's father and stepmother. Their deaths and the trial of the unmarried upper-class daughter was national news and has survived in lore ("… took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks…"). No need for a spoiler alert given the well-known story, but be aware that blood is shown, a badly-wounded dead body is shown, repetitive rape is implied, epileptic grand mal seizures are shown, and continual psychological torture and family conflict are depicted. A man viciously cuts the head off his daughter's pet pigeons and then forces her and the family to eat them for dinner. The bird's bloody heads are seen. Two women have clothed sex. Female nudity is shown. The use of language is spare but includes "f--k," "c--t," and "bitches." Adults drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes.

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What's the story?

LIZZIE is Lizzie Borden of historical pop culture fame, the one who took the axe and gave her parents 40 whacks in 1892. The back story presented here includes a wealthy, cruel, and controlling New England father (Jamey Sheridan) presiding over two unmarried daughters, Lizzie (Chloe Sevigny) and Emma (Kim Dickens). He's stingy, busy sexually assaulting the house maid Bridget (Kristen Stewart) on a nightly basis, prone to threatening epileptic Lizzie with institutionalization, and plotting with a ne'er-do-well brother-in-law (Denis O'Hare) to keep his considerable estate out of his children's hands. In a surpassing act of cruelty, he even cuts off the heads of Lizzie's homing pigeons and feeds them to the family for dinner. Lizzie maintains her self esteem in the face of male relatives telling her she's "nothing," and takes to teaching the illiterate house maid Bridget to read, slowly forming a bond with her that leads to a romantic and sexual relationship. In flashback, the murders play out, revealing meticulous strategizing that doesn't go exactly as planned. The role of police and the justice system is glossed over to race to the movie's conclusion.

Is it any good?

Like any good thriller, Lizzie meticulously presents a monster that brings out both the courage and violence in those who must protect themselves from the monster's cruelty. Unsettling music and a soundtrack filled with creaky doors and floors also mimic the genre's eerie aura. The movie is clear that although she's bright, self possessed, and capable, it's Lizzie's second-class status as a female, and especially an unmarried female, that's at the root of her problems. She's her cruel father's property, damaged goods at that, and never having been turned over to the ownership and care of a husband, he treats her as an annoyance and burden.

Her story is told emphasizing her position of powerlessness as the terrible true-life double murder is deconstructed and delivered in riveting fashion. This set-up poses the notion that Lizzie was either a cold-blooded killer or someone fighting for her life, and at the same time ridding the world of a predatory demon. Not everyone will see it that way, but this Lizzie is painted as a victim who, seeing no escape from her torture, rises up violently in a heroic act of liberation. And so the film proceeds with the grim serenity of a funeral, even though no one dies until deep into the action's second half. Sevigny and Stewart are riveting.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the powerlessness of 19th century women. How do you think the lack of self determination of even the most privileged women in society back then links to the relative progress enjoyed by many women today?

  • How did the social restrictions of years ago encourage women to rise up and rebel, helping them gain the vote, the right to higher education, the right to work jobs in predominantly-male fields, and the right to legal independence from men?

  • The movie asks us to believe that the psychological cruelty Lizzie suffered drove her to commit justifiable bad acts. Do you agree that some crimes are justified in extreme circumstances? Why or why not?

  • How could you learn more about Lizzie Borden?

Movie details

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