Shirley Jackson was a real-life horror writer, author of two novels and hundreds of short stories, including the most well known The Lottery. However, this film, Shirley, would not be considered a biopic. The film is a fictional story involving characters from her life.
Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss) is shown as a withdrawn and reclusive figure, married to a college professor Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg), and she was struggling to write her next book. Along the way, a young newlywed couple, Rose (Odessa Young) and Fred (Logan Lerman), arrive at their home. Stanley and Shirley begin playing with them like a cat plays with a mouse.
There is a lot of atmosphere in this film. The film is not a horror film, but it certainly has an uneasy feeling about it as the time passes with the games going on. Eventually, Rose becomes a sort of muse for Shirley and her new story.
Elisabeth Moss is amazing in this role. She is completely engaged in every scene and creates a world of uncertainty with her own mental state and that of everyone around her. Her quirkiness and unsettling tendencies make the audience feel shaky.
The relationships in this movie are unlike most and are looked at in great detail. However, there are dream-like moments when you are just not sure what exactly is happening. How much of what is going on is actually happening and what parts of this are just the imagination of the talented and morose author?
No part of the film better encapsulates that better than the ending sequence. I won’t spoil it, but the ending involves a lot of ambiguity. What happened? There are plenty of possibilities in play here, but those who like to have a definitive end to a film may wind up disappointed.
Elisabeth Moss does a brilliant job, but so does Michael Stuhlbarg as her philandering husband. These two are shown to be clearly a perfect match for one another. The movie is not afraid to place two of the main characters front and center as arrogant, superior and mean spirited jerks. Their snipping toward the young couple is displayed in full detail by both of the two. At times, you get the feeling they are doing it simply because they could. They are like the real life trolls on the internet.
Shirley is a moody and morose film, taking its cue from the author that the film is based upon. It is a masterful group of performances from the talented cast within a narrative that creates an ambiance of anxiety.