While not necessarily in the "horror" genre, I took interest in the movie Shirley (2020) which is  very loosely based on the wri...

Movie: Shirley (2020)

While not necessarily in the "horror" genre, I took interest in the movie Shirley (2020) which is very loosely based on the writer Shirley Jackson, who is most famously known for her book The Haunting of Hill House. Shirley is less a biography, and more a story derived from a book written by Susan Scarf Merrell with the same name. There is a little truth weaved in through the movie, but for the most part it's fictional.

A couple things that were accurate ~ from what I've read ~ Shirley Jackson had a tumultuous relationship with her professor and literary critic husband Stanley Hymen. She struggled with his infidelities, most notably with his students, and from his dealings he convinced her to have an open marriage. He controlled their finances even though she eventually surpassed his earnings after the publication of the short story The Lottery. Shirley was an introvert, that eventually succumbed to agoraphobia, heavily smoked, which had it's own health problems, had colitis, was depressed, took barbiturates for anxiety, amphetamines for weight loss, and had a mind of her own that refused to fit in with the ladies in town. 

The real Shirley and Elisabeth Moss as Shirley.

The movie begins with newlyweds Fred and Rose coming to live with Shirley and Stanley, while Fred works on his dissertation at Bennington College where Stanley works. The influence of Shirley and Stanley on the new couple engulfs them and their relationship suffers, while Shirley and Stanley continue to thrive in their own unconventional way. Plus, Shirley has a lot of one liners in the movie that are really fun. She has no filter and I can relate. Before I opened a shop I had no filter too. It's like when you know you're being a bitch but just don't care.


In exchange for free room and board, Stanley asks Rose to cook and clean a little bit. Shirley is angry that this young couple is staying with them. She is dealing with writers block, lays in bed all day, and doesn't want to be around people. Her response to Rose staying with them is, "A clean house is a sign of mental inferiority." She also guesses that Rose is pregnant at their very first encounter. While all four are sitting around the dinner table Shirley says, " When's the baby due?", looks at Fred and says, "I hope it's yours." At this point you get a feeling that Stanley has cheated on Shirley with students before and she might be thinking that's why he invited the couple to stay with them. So this is the couples first real introduction to Shirley. Naturally, they can't stand her and want to leave. 

Rose isn't too happy about being told she has to cook and clean, 

while both men are in agreement she should.

The book Shirley is writing is about a real life missing college student named Paula. She's having a hard time working through the plot, but Rose becomes her muse and stand in for Paula. At one point Shirley claims to be a witch and reads Rose's tarot cards, but has a vision of Rose as Paula instead. The two women make thoughtful connections and become friends. Shirley asks, "Why would Paula would disappear?" and Rose replies, "Disappearing is the only way anyone would notice the missing girl." This movie deals a lot with the passive role of women in the 1940s and 1950s and their gender relations compared to men. All the female characters seem stifled in some way, but Shirley is the one that is free compared to them. She encourages Rose to question things and that it's truly ok to have "dark thoughts". They rely and strengthen each other, to which Rose is told, "Women like Shirley don't have friends." 

Shirley is reclusive, while in the beginning Rose is the opposite ~ a good "wifey". Shirley knows that people in town revile her and her mystery/ horror works, and don't want to associate with such an eccentric woman. But now she and Rose relate to the missing girl because they both want to be seen and carve out their own reality.

Shirley and her sassy face.

Stanley is abusive to everyone in the house. He encourages Fred to cheat on his pregnant wife with students, while denying him tenure. Stanley gets mad that Shirley doesn't share her work-in-progress writing with him, and he treats Rose like a maid that he can flirt with. He gets mad when Shirley stays in bed and he gets mad when she works through dinner. She can't win.

In the end the couple moves out and become a version of the people they lived with. Rose refuses to go back to being "wifey" and Fred will always be marked as a philanderer. And Shirley finishes her book to which Stanley calls it "brilliant" and calls her his "horrifically talented bride". 

Honestly, this movie is a little slow. I love documentaries and I was hoping for a more authentic depiction of Shirley Jackson's life. For example they completely leave out her four kids! That being said, Elisabeth Moss is wonderful in the role of Shirley and portrays her exactly how I always thought she would be. There's a black cat in the movie but not given enough airtime. I give it 3 out of 5 death cap mushrooms.

Here's the trailer...