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‘…does a good job of showing just how cruel creative people can be…’

Shirley Jackson was and still is a revered voice in literature, but it’s no surprise to learn that, like many writers, she was a bit of a horror herself. Josephine Decker’s film takes a lead from Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by depicting an academic couple living on a US campus, playing get-the guests with a young, naïve couple. Based on this film, Susan Scarf Merrell’s book must almost qualify as a literary mash-up, even down to the pregnancy that’s pivotal in both stories. Producer Christine Vachon was also responsible for one of may favourite unofficial bio-pics, fabricating David Bowie’s life to some effect in Velvet Goldmine, and she does a similar trick here; this is more like a story in which Jackson happens to be a character than any kind of biopic.

Most people know Shirley Jackson for The Haunting of Hill House, which became a popular film by Robert Wise (1963) and was riffed on to mainstream success by Mike Flanagan for Netflix. But her short story The Lottery is one of the greats of US literature, and that’s the starting point here as Odessa Young and Logan Lerman play Fred and Rosie, two aspiring academic who are pictured reading The Lottery in the New Yorker as they journey to meet their literary heroine. But Shirley Jackson is incredibly mean to them both, as is her husband Stanley (Michael Stulberg), and a vicious game of campus and sexual politics ensue.

Jackson is played with some venom by Elizabeth Moss, looking remarkably like Jackson, and conveys a laconic hatefulness that recalls a number of writers. Shirley won’t please those looking into insight about Jackson’s supernatural storytelling, although her fascination with a local murder provides a dark sub-plot here. Shirley is a dark, poetic and deliberately unsatisfying film that conveys a mind untethered; films about writers writing are notoriously hard to land, but Decker pulls it off here by focusing on Jackson as a person rather than as a creative. Not all horror stories involve ghosts, and Shirley does a good job of showing just how cruel creative people can be.

Shirley hits UK cinemas on October 30th 2020.

Thanks to Curzon for providing early access to this title.


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  1. On this one, I must be blunt, having read several bios and all her stories. You said it “Shirley is a dark, poetic and deliberately unsatisfying film …” Couldn’t mesh the mind of director, writer, author with something that justified good use of my time. Moss did a good job imagining the author, though, and sets were real.

    • I think that those who know about Jackson may well be the worst audience for this film; it probably works better if you know nothing, and that clearly is not you! Bluntness always welcome on this site, as is truthfulness!

  2. Well, whatever comment I give on this one is going to pale when compared to Fraggle’s and the Bookstooge’s ones😊 So…I’m not going to give that a try…instead of a nope though, I’ll give it a yup!😂😂 This sounds like my kind of movie, and since my namesake is dark robed evil wizard, that’s probably not a real surprise😊😊

  3. This is why I refuse to be creative on my blog. That way, when they make the “Ultimate Bookstooge Movie” they’ll have no fuel for their knives. Can’t stab someone in the back with your knife if it has run out of gas!

    • This is one complex metaphor that you are exploring. Who brings knife fuel to a gun fight?

      Who would play you in the Bookstooge movie?

      • Every True American Patriot has knife fuel, in the unlikely occurrence that we run out of bullets! 😉

        I think that once Michael Caine dies, he can play me via cgi. I’ve always wanted to be ghosted. And obviously, with Michael Caine in it, we know it will be good 😉

        • Then Bookstooge the movie will be every bit as good as The Swarm, Jaws 4 and Beyond The Poseidon Adventure.

              • Alright, it’s Bookstooge’in time again! So glad to hear it’s making a come back, just like hammer time pants. Man, the future retro-80’s is a fantastic time to be alive.

                  • Well, the 80’s was the Greatest Decade. So since we’re in 2020 doing all the 80’s things again, that’s the Retro part. But obviously I transcend mere time and space, so I’m also the future, so it’s Future Retro-80’s.
                    Throw in some Hot Irons and oh baby, you have a sizzling good time.

                    • Maybe I can get him to kill Michael Caine for me. Oh, is Irons still alive? I’m not exactly up on my “Who’s Still Alive” actor-ography.

                    • Mate, you do not need to kill Michael Caine to feel better about yourself. And why would you want a tea-drinking Brit to play you?

                    • I feel fine about myself. I’m a Master of Ironing you know. But I just don’t feel right about using the digital ghost of Caine to star as me until he’s actually dead. It’s just not respectful.

                      Why would I want Michael Caine? Because Michael Caine only stars in Good Movies. Usually, in Really Good Movies. I think his contracts all have the RGM clause in them.

                    • I hate to point out the flaw in your logic. Is Bookstooge the movie coming anytime soon? Keen to review the first sentence…

                    • Flaw? What flaw? You mean because I misspelled Michael? You’re such a grammar nazi!

                      The movie is a complete go once I can hire Jeremy Irons to bump off Caine for me (see how I cleverally avoided misspelling Michael there? Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, even more shame on me!)

                    • Wasn’t that a joke that Marc Twain wrote for George Bush? Sounds familiar… anyway, sounds like Bookstooge the movie is still in development to me…

                    • Dang, you caught me out. I was sure everybody had forgotten that. I think it was for Dan Quail, the first Bush’s Vice President.

                      Yeah, if I’m brutally honest, things aren’t going as well as we’re projecting to the world. That Caine just won’t die. What a cantankerous old son of a gun.

                    • You are clinging to a fallacy, not a good look! I picture you more like DJ Qualls…

                    • Too bad I forgot to appoint myself as Judge Bookstooge. Then I’d take this court to town! Sadly, I overlooked that little thing. Oh well. tomorrow it is.

    • I appreciate the detail of a good long nope. There is some kind of redemption for Jackson here, but I hope nobody ever makes a film like this to tell the world how horrid I am!

    • Sorry, your comment was brief in an avalanche of nonsense! I’d say it offers a rather modern view of the staid 50’s, with a dash of progressive LGBTQ to boot…

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