Adapted from Susan Scarf Merrell’s novel, Shirley follows a young couple, Rose and Fred, who move in with famed horror writer, Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss), and her husband. Jackson is inspired by the couple (especially Rose) to embark on writing a new novel.
If you haven’t heard of Shirley Jackson before this film, she is one of the greatest horror writers of our time.
She is the mastermind behind The Haunting of Hill House (yes, the inspiration for the hit Netflix series) and manages to focus her work on capturing the terror of humanity, rather than ghouls and goblins.
In her work, there is always a sense dread, panic and mystery. And that’s exactly what Shirley evokes best.
Shirley is a dense psychological look into Jackson’s creative process, female hysteria, and the relationship between Jackson and Rose.
The film as a whole is unconventional. It’s challenging. It spends a lot of quiet moments in Jackson’s imagination featuring tight close up frames of Moss in a trance-like state.
Thanks to an anxiety-inducing score, heightened sound design, and surreal cinematography, Shirley makes you feel like you’re as mad as Jackson herself.
Although sequences are remarkable to watch, it not a perfect film. It’s slow paced. The plot is twisty and fragmented. But hell, it is ambitious.
As a whole, I imagine Shirley playing out better as on stage rather than through film, especially since Sarah Gubbin’s writing is so sharp and intellectual.
However, what Shirley loses in its experimental storytelling, it makes up for in performance.
The ensemble as a whole is strong but this is Elisabeth Moss’s masterpiece. Moss is a whirlwind of complexity, neurosis, wit and raging madness.
Her ability to portray hysteria and mental illness is so raw and mesmerizing. She doesn’t even need to say a word. Just the look in her eyes and devilish smile speaks volumes to Jackson’s inner psyche.
Based on the last couple of performances Moss does not shy away from a challenge. She has established her as a masterful actress.
However, her performance as Shirley is Moss at her finest. In fact, it is nothing short of genius. Bravo, Ms. Moss. Give her all of the awards.
Shirley is now streaming on Hulu.
Final Thoughts: You may come for Shirley, but you will stay for Elisabeth Moss.