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  • Gareth Crook

Shirley (2020)

Elizabeth Moss is the spiky Shirley Jackson. A writer, an older writer, a horror writer, a real one, that I’d not heard of if I’m honest. Moss is not convincing playing an older character, but I’ll let that slip. This from what I can gather is largely fiction, with a few real life elements thrown in. She’s married to Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg) a university professor. They take in Rose & Fred, as guests in their southern home, as Fred works at the university and Rose the house. There’s an uncomfortable style to this, a heat, a palpable dirt. Hand held cameras sweep around dusty smoke stained rooms. Creaking wood, smeared mirrors. Crickets and frogs soundtracking the evenings. Dappled sunlight through heavy curtains setting the tone of the days. This I understand maybe influenced by Jackson’s work, but don’t hold me to that. It’s all a setting for Shirley’s twisted paranoia. She doesn’t have many social skills, intentionally so, a crank. Stanley indulges in his way, his pseudo intellectual way. He’s bullish and belittling. Shirley doesn’t like Rose (Odessa Young), doesn’t like Stanley’s flirting, but in Rose she finds inspiration and a helper, more than just cooking and cleaning. It’s a bit muddy, on one hand we have Shirley’s imagination at the typewriter, drifting into a blurred world. On the other we have a missing girl. This is where the two threads meet. With the help of Rose, the recluse unpicks the details of the disappearance as fuel for her own narrative. Moss is good at drama, great in fact. An unhinged, menacing stare, she’s great to watch, but it all feels a bit wooly. It’s lacking cohesion, which can sometimes be fun, but here is just a bit irritating. There’s no likeable characters either, something I often struggle with when this is the case. Stanley grows increasingly repulsive, condescending. Rose and Fred flat, dull and uninspiring. Shirley, well she just seems wasted and reduced. An hour in I’m thoroughly bored, praying for a redemptive third act. Instead it whimpers out quite unsatisfactorily. Sometimes you get to the end of a film and think, what a waste. I’m not sure there’s that much here though to begin with, perhaps there is, but I’m unimpressed all the same.



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