Shirley Jackson’s iconic horror novel The Haunting of Hill House was released in 1959. While the novel got a recent reimagining helmed by Mike Flanagan on Netflix, the author herself is the subject of a new psychodrama. Shirley is now available “everywhere” via Neon. Check out the latest trailer and read more about the movie below.
Renowned horror writer Shirley Jackson is on the precipice of writing her masterpiece when the arrival of newlyweds upends her meticulous routine and heightens tensions in her already tempestuous relationship with her philandering husband. The middle-aged couple, prone to ruthless barbs and copious afternoon cocktails, begins to toy mercilessly with the naïve young couple at their door.
Shirley is directed by Josephine Decker from a screenplay penned by Sarah Gubbins. Elisabeth Moss (Us, The Invisible Man) plays the title role alongside Odessa Young, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Logan Lerman.
Shirley Jackson was a wildly unorthodox human and storyteller. Encountering her work was like finding a map towards becoming the kind of artist I would like to be. Daring. Intimate. Structured yet dreamlike.
Shirley’s work rides on the skin between imagined and real, seducing with its oddness and humble cracks until you can’t tell if you’re looking up the stairwell or into your own mouth. I felt strongly that this film needed to feel like a Shirley Jackson story. Cinematographer Sturla Grovlen and I tried to build an ever-evolving visual language for the film that would feel both real and surreal. I remember Sturla saying at some point on the shoot, “Usually, as you go along, it becomes easier to make choices. You understand the film you are making, and then it becomes clearer what you need to do in each scene. This is the only film I have made where that is not the case. The rules are constantly changing.” This was one of the challenges of the film and also one of its thrills.
Sarah Gubbins wrote a fantastic script that inhabits many worlds: the world inside Shirley’s house so different from the world outside Shirley’s house; the world inside Shirley’s mind at times inextricable from the world outside it. The layers kept folding in upon themselves. The napkin dropped. The spoon became a fork became a ghost. We were constantly chasing the reality, and I think this is one of the things I find most special about our film. I deeply adore collaboration, and on this project, we let the mystery remain a mystery. I hope that this was true on all levels of the process- – the acting, the production design, the cinematography. We had to work on the edge of what we knew so the process could remain fresh and alive, as mysterious as Shirley’s mind.
Speaking of actors, I feel blessed to have had an insanely great cast on this movie. I was constantly learning from them; our process of discovery always dipped further into our own unknowns. We had so much to work with as well thanks to Sarah’s incredible script.
Sarah wrote stunning characters in Stanley and Shirley. Their wit, codependence and joy in manipulation ferment the brew of our story. In real life, Stanley and Shirley had the most fascinatingly open yet toxic relationship. I think in some ways, Sarah’s story is about cycles of abuse – and how self-destruction often masquerades as ‘success.’ This is true of both the burgeoning author and the burgeoning housewife. One can pour oneself so deeply into one’s ‘art’ – whether that’s baking or storytelling – that one loses ability to self-care. Rose and Shirley influence, destroy, remake, create and transcend each other. They feed on each other’s obsessions. How do we fall apart and let that falling be an entrance into our true selves?
I remember reading some critic or biographer noting that Shirley wasn’t a political writer. But I believe that Shirley grounded the political in the personal and that this is why her work continues to resonate today. Her stories are so deeply human that they are also timeless. She battled racism, classism and sexism through the unusual, the psychological, the manipulative rhythms of the subconscious.