By: Amanda Guarragi
Josephine Decker known for making a splash with Madeline’s Madeline in 2018, takes on the story of famous horror author Shirley Jackson. Shirley is a character study of the famous author, as she attempts to write another novel. She has been locked in her house for two months and has unwanted guests moving in, as her husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg) offers a young teacher, Fred Nemser (Logan Lerman) and his pregnant wife, Rose Nemser (Odessa Young) to stay with them, in order to give him a steady position at the school where he teaches.
The story is a typical stockholm syndrome atmosphere but the intrigue in the protagonist and these characters is what was severely lacking. At first Shirley is opposed in having this couple stay with her and then slowly, she preys on young Rose. She begins to create scenes in her head, that are somehow connected to a “missing girl” ad, that has been circling the town. The story of the young girl named Paula, is somehow in this fictional plain, that crosses into the reality of Rose living with Shirley. Shirley goes a bit mad while she writes this story, causing Rose to unravel at the same time.
Does it seem like a a story about a writer and her muse? Sure. However, the present time of Rose growing closer to Shirley does not make sense with how this film ended. Is Paula a real missing person? Is Rose still alive and well at the end of this film? Or was this entire experience of the married couple moving in with them a dream from the beginning? In simple terms, let’s just say that the film leaves plenty to the imagination and how the audience can interpret a writers process.
Elisabeth Moss delivers another stellar performance but the character just did not sit right for her. There was something off about this pairing and I don’t know if the character suited Moss. It just seemed like the film was forcing itself to be edgy and sinister in order to hold onto its audience. There were graphic visuals and unique camerawork to show the madness in the mind of the author and her process but it wasn’t enough to make it interesting.
Shirley had great moments between both women in the film and they had very open discussions about womanhood but those important conversations got lost in the attempted madness of the piece. It was a bit too messy for my liking because of the constant crossover between present time and fictional scenes. It was hard to understand what Decker wanted to present in this film. Maybe I’m someone who gets too involved into the psychosis of the characters and wanting something to come from it. It had its moments and had solid performances from all four of them but sadly it just didn’t sit well with me.