Sundance 2020 Review | “Shirley”

Photo by Thatcher Keats, Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Reviewed by guest contributors Ashley Alserda and Kaitlyn Alserda

Director Josephine Decker premiered her latest film at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. An admirable performance from Elizabeth Moss and amazing performances from the rest of the cast which includes Logan Lerman, Michael Stuhlbarg and Odessa Young. Based off of the novel from Susan Scarf Merrell, “Shirley”, is a film about the talented and obscure writer, Shirley Jackson, (if you are unfamiliar with her work, she is the author of “The Haunting on Hill House”, a novel later turned into a Netflix Original hit series.)

Director Josephine Decker and actor Elisabeth Moss attend the World Premiere of Shirley by Josephine Decker, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. © 2020 Sundance Institute | photo by Jen Fairchild.

A psychological jaunt, set in Bennington, Vermont, near a college where Jackson’s husband is a professor, this film takes you into the depths of Shirley Jackson’s twisted, dark and creative mind. It will show you her most personal trials with her relationships, as well as her battles with herself, and her struggle with writer’s block. Finding inspiration from people coming in and out of her life, Shirley would mess with the relationships in her real life and eventually base the characters in her books on her interactions with real people. Jackson’s apparent depression and her reclusive, artistic mind will have you wondering what and who the reality is and isn’t. Yet somehow, through all of her conniving behavioral escapades, Jackson is a likable, relatable character.

The director of the film refers to Shirley Jackson as a “badass” and it’s difficult to disagree with her. As shown in the film, “Shirley” seemed to have little or no control over her relationships and life, but somehow ends up with all of the control.

If you enjoy psychological thrillers, with added darkness and female empowerment; or if you are a fan of Jackson herself, then this film is a must-see. Elizabeth Moss was the perfect choice to play Shirley. Moss’s way of captivating an audience while stabbing you with her electric coldness.

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