An adaptation of Susan Scarf Merrell’s novel of the same name from 2014 and directed by Josephine Decker (Madeline’s Madeline, Butter on the Latch). It is a biographical film very loosely based on the period in the writer Shirley Jackson’s life where she was writing the novel Hangsaman. The actress, which, I am sure, every director out there wants to cast in their film if it is strange, odd and scary, Elizabeth Moss (from television’s The Handmaid’s Tale) is Shirley. The focal point of the film, Moss once again demonstrates that she is more than up to the task of carrying a film/show on her shoulders. Her intensity and steeliness is put to good use here.
While taking in a young couple, famous horror writer Shirley Jackson (Elizabeth Moss) finds herself provided with material which she uses for her next novel. Perfectly suited for the genre she writes in, Shirley is a rather dour in demeanour woman.
When newlyweds Fred (Logan Lerman – The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Fury) and Rose (Odessa Young – Assassination Nation, A Million Little Pieces) move in with Shirley and her critic/professor husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg – A Serious Man, Call Me By Your Name) the novelist’s life is turned upside down.
Besides the new people in her house disrupting her usual writing schedule, at the same time Shirley becomes aware of her husband’s sleeping around. With all this going on she cannot be as single minded about her writing as she usually is.
She is not the only one adjusting as Rose is learning what is expected of her as a wife. Meaning she has to squash her own wants and desires when it comes to her life while trying to keep up with the intellectual types she is living with. In her Shirley sees prey. Someone who is quite innocent and wanting a friend. Not knowing that Shirley is not exactly a nice person. Stakes are upped after Rose gives birth.
While the actors here all do good jobs, as expected the spotlight is stolen by Moss. A performance so nuanced, restrained, internal, and unhinged at times that you cannot take your eyes off of her. Always wondering when this tightly wound woman is going to explode. Due to her performance and the tone of the film you will feel unsettled throughout. Almost feels like you are watching one of Jackson’s novels.
Do remember that this is fiction. Not what actually happened in Jackson’s life. For the most part.