3020. Shirley (2020)

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7.9 Cagey and unnerving
  • Acting 8.0
  • Directing 8.0
  • Story 7.8
  • User Ratings (0 Votes) 0

Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Odessa Young, Michael Stuhlbarg

Director: Josephine Decker

Running Time: 107 mins


Shirley is an American film about a troubled horror author who finds inspiration for her newest book after she and her husband take in a young married couple at their home.

Gripping and potently unnerving, Shirley is an enthralling look into the mind of a talented yet troubled author. Playing on a brilliant blend of horror genre themes and a story of female emancipation, the film is at its best an intoxicating and powerfully atmospheric drama.

There’s a lot about Shirley that really catches the eye, but nothing more so than its fantastically cagey atmosphere. Though it tells a biographical story, the film feels far more like a thrilling work of fiction, something that’s achieved through its use of a hyper-tense and unnerving mood throughout.

Its use of classic horror tropes like an isolated household and a troubled mind not only mirrors the works of author Shirley Jackson, but also brings that unsettling atmosphere to the fore right from the start. Also, the film uses moody lighting and dizzying camerawork to further pull you into what feels like an increasingly maddening story that blurs the lines between pure biography and all-out psychodrama.

Director Josephine Decker does a brilliant job at bringing that atmosphere to life in such striking fashion, topped off with the use of a tense and shocking musical score that lends a powerfully on-edge feeling to every moment of the film.

Not only does Shirley thrill with its intensely cagey atmosphere, but it also features a whole host of fantastic performances, particularly from lead actress Elisabeth Moss.

In what is already her second head-spinningly brilliant turn of 2020, Moss is absolutely mesmerising as author Shirley Jackson. From the way she captures the author’s likeness so convincingly to the way she dominates the screen with a powerfully unnerving assurance right through the whole film, it’s difficult to take your eyes off of Moss at any moment, making her portrayal of Shirley all the more intoxicating.

Meanwhile, Odessa Young stars in a brilliant supporting role that brings an unnerving yet magnetic mirror image of Moss’ portrayal of Shirley Jackson, and Michael Stuhlbarg stuns with an understated secondary performance with such an impact that you feel his lurking presence even when he’s not on screen.

The performances and directing here are nothing short of brilliant, and the screenplay is also absolutely riveting. Though it may not quite have the incisive intensity and pace that the film’s atmosphere perhaps warrants, Shirley tells an enthralling tale of the mind of a writer, as well as a forceful story of female emancipation.

The biographical element of Shirley Jackson’s life is interesting, but her relationship with the young couple that drive her newest literary work is what really gripped me throughout. Cleverly plotted as both an in-depth look at her own psyche and a tale that plays on themes of women’s liberation, Shirley tells a powerfully passionate story from start to finish.

Overall, I was really impressed with this film. Intense, unnerving and enthralling all the way through, Shirley is a fantastic blend of biography, horror and psychodrama that counts on an intoxicating atmosphere, on-edge musical score, expert directing and stunning performances to keep you engrossed from beginning to end, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.9.

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About Author

The Mad Movie Man, AKA Anthony Cullen, writes articles and reviews about movies and the world of cinema. Since January 1st, 2013, he has watched and reviewed a movie every day. This is the blog dedicated to the project: www.madmovieman.com