Featuring Chloë Sevigny and Kristen Stewart and arriving in select theatres September 14th, Lizzie captures the story of Lizzie Borden, the infamous Massachusetts woman who was tried (and eventually acquitted) for the murder (by hatchet) of her father and stepmother in 1892. 

The trailer makes no bones about the subject matter, as a brooding low cello tone accompanies a deathly scream, supposedly of Borden’s stepmother. Following some dialogue, the cello tone comes back 15 seconds in. The dialogue is recorded with a room tone, giving it a quasi-documentary feel. 

At the 0:26 mark, a steady cello pizzicato line is introduced, a major third higher than the initial bowed tone. This steady tone is punctuated with accents tending towards the end of each measure, as if leaping and lurching out of control. At 0:47 we hear a cloud of creepy, aleatoric pizzicato strings – further confirmation that we are witness to a horror trailer, rather than being led towards drama. 

At 0:56 we’ve reached the halfway mark and that release card is presented alongside some highly dissonant overtones and the low bowed tone and consistently plucked strings now put together. Percussion enters the fray as screams and violence ensue on screen. 

By 1:12, tension has markedly increased: in what is a fairly common tack to take, the rhythm has effectively doubled, with the strings on eighth notes and the bowed cello notes hitting every half measure rather than full. At 1:20 we hear a very unusual, growling cello, almost indefinite in tone. At 1:26 we hear a fairly random and distracting array of percussion completely outside the tempo synched to a critic’s quotation from Slashfilm (“takes a legend and blows it up from the inside”). Shortly after, we partly understand why: we see Lizzie secretly engaging intimately with the maid of the house, Bridget Sullivan; the upper strings engage in glissandi in recognition of the reveal. The dialogue is in direct aural counterpoint to the visual as an off-screen voice, presumably from the courtroom, asks to “place your hand on the Bible before you.” 

At 1:34 the pace picks up again and now we are at sixteenth notes for a moment before, at 1:38, we hear thundering percussion that can, very interestingly, arguably be construed not less than three ways: as the percussion track, as a gavel in a courtroom, and as the hatchet that was said to be used to kill Lizzie’s parents. An avalanche of different previously presented sounds subsequently overwhelms the audioviewer, leaving for a final dialogue at 1:50 with just some upper string tones and the accented cello note motif returning. At 1:57 we hear a piano lightly ruminating on the same note in the upper register. At 2:03 we hear what is most likely a water phone, a go-to instrument for film trailers in the horror genre. The trailer ends with four more of those now-iconic sharply bowed cello notes, in simple quarter notes. And it just ends.

The audio in this trailer for Lizzie leaves us no doubt that it’s a modern horror film; although it does tell a 19th century tale, there’s little here that sonically or even visually impresses or leans on that fact for interest. All the usual suspects for arranging a trailer in acts is here: a go-to short motif, steadily building orchestration, and an increase in tempo through doubling all build towards what is perhaps the most interesting moment, when a series of percussive hits suggests a confluence of the horror of murder and the drama of the courtroom.


– Curtis Perry