Craig William Macneill's terse, at times tense Lizzie re-airs that most familiar of dirty laundry, the case of the 1892 hatchet murders that will forever be attributed to Lizzie Borden, despite her acquittal. Still, for a while, after a somewhat compelling hour suggesting all the reasons that Borden might be willing to kill, Macneill and screenwriter Bryce Kass tantalize with the possibility of their subject's innocence.
When the killing comes, the film skips right over it. We glimpse a shadowy figure grab the hatchet from a cellar, and soon after hear Borden (Chloë Sevigny) scream at the discovery of her father's corpse. Then Lizzie cuts to the aftermath. We're cued to wonder: Is she being railroaded? Might she not recall having done it? Earlier in the film, Lizzie has collapsed in public, suffering fits. Might she have murdered in a fugue state? But the filmmakers keep up the pretense of possibility for only a couple of scenes, just until we've seen the Bordens' servant Bridget (Kristen Stewart) attest to Lizzie's innocence at trial.
Then Lizzie vaults back in time to present its theory of the case, becoming a blunt true-crime procedural, tracking Borden and Bridget minute by minute through the slaughter, hacking into its simple ideas about women and the past with all the nuance of Sevigny's Borden swinging her ax into her father and stepmother's skulls. While dutifully feminist in its outlook, the film strips Lizzie while never laying her bare.