by director Craig William Macneill
I first became aware of Lizzie Borden and the murder of her father and stepmother when I was a child. I was raised in a small New England town close to Fall River where the Bordens had lived. My mother collected and sold antiques, and the top floor of our house was filled with old furniture covered in white sheets; fertile ground for my brother and me to tell each other made up tales of the murders staged in our home, and the ghosts of the victims that still haunted the hallways. Lizzie Borden was often referenced in these stories. She was a dark spark of inspiration in our attempts to terrify one another.
As I grew older, Lizzie continued to linger in my imagination, but I became less fixated on the brutality, and more focused on understanding what set of circumstances could have led to that gruesome act? It is precisely this backstory that is explored in the script: placing her in both a historical and psychological context; looking into the framework of her potential motivation, and, assuming she did in fact commit these murders, questioning how such dangerous impulses might have begun to manifest.
I approached the material with the hope that you could watch the film and wonder whether she was a sociopath, or merely trapped, and forced to do what was necessary for her emotional survival—or both. I wanted to bring the audience very close to Lizzie and her life; to put them in the room with her so that their assessment of her circumstances would feel almost first person rather than removed and dispassionate. To that end, I placed an emphasis on Lizzie’s everyday routine, and the stillness and claustrophobia of her home, allowing the narrative to unfold with measured restraint and an escalating sense of dread. There is an intentional awareness of the camera that, at times, lingers in uninterrupted takes allowing the viewers’ eyes to wander within the frame, observing details that might otherwise go unnoticed—encouraging introspection and the uncomfortable feeling that you’re invading the characters’ privacy. It is in the subtle, menacing, manipulation of the ordinary that I believe our truest fears are revealed—when the circumstances, though horrific, are grounded in reality.