Elisabeth Moss Is an Iconic Horror Author Who Likes to Get Twisted

Neon has released the first trailer for the long-awaited Shirley. The psychodrama stars Elisabeth Moss and is produced by Martin Scorsese. The movie, which was directed by Josephine Decker from a screenplay by Sarah Gubbins, was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Susan Scarf Merrell’s novel of the same name is the basis for the story and the trailer looks just as intense as the original book.

Shirley focuses on renowned horror writer Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss), who 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. All of these elements create a tense environment in the trailer, which highlights the performance of Elisabeth Moss.

Shirley is a fictional account of the American Gothic writer Shirley Jackson and her husband Stanley Hyman. Jackson is most well-known for writing the short story, The Lottery – about a ritualized stoning that occurs every year in an unnamed New England town. Hyman was a professor at Bennington College, an avid jazz critic, and a luminary in the field of literary theory. Throughout her adult life, Jackson dealt with numerous health issues, which are hinted at in the first trailer for the movie. Director Josephine Decker had this to say about looking into Jackson’s life.

“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.”

Tackling Susan Scarf Merrell’s source material for Shirley was never going to be easy. Josephine Decker knew this from the start, which is why things started to shift in real-time as the production went on, as overseen by producer Shirley Jackson. Though the story is fiction, there are many elements that are true to Shirley Jackson’s life thrown into the mix. Decker went on to discuss what it was like putting the movie together. She explains.

“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.”

Shirley Jackson also wrote The Haunting of Hill House, which is considered to be one of the best ghost stories of the 20th century. It has been adapted for the screen twice, along with multiple theater productions. As for Shirley, it is one of the most anticipated movies of the year, especially since fans of Susan Scarf Merrell’s novel have been waiting for an adaptation since 2014. The movie will be available everywhere, including on Blu-ray and VOD, starting June 5th. You can check out the Shirley trailer above, thanks to the Neon YouTube channel.

Writer for Movieweb since 2017. Enjoys playing Catan when not writing about superheroes and Star Wars.

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