Shirley will be forever remembered as the role which launched Elisabeth Moss into the stratosphere. Moss’s performance as horror writer Shirley Jackson is Oscar-worthy. She owns this role in the same way Anthony Hopkins owned the role of Hannibal Lecter. Both were undoubtedly twisted and, at times, equally terrifying. This really shouldn’t shock anyone who has followed Moss’s career. Some thought she deserved consideration for the film Her Smell. Moss has made a career out of delivering in a variety of roles, but none will bring the type of acclaim that Shirley will. This film wouldn’t even be half as good without a scintillating performance from our lead actor.
The film centers around horror writer Shirley Jackson (Moss), who is on the verge of writing her masterpiece when some newlyweds upend her life. Their presence heightens tensions between Jackson and her philandering husband. The couple then begins to mercilessly toy with the young couple pushing them to their limits. Sarah Gubbins perfectly captured the neurosis of Jackson while weaving in every little twist showing how these two newlyweds could be pushed to the brink.
Director Josephine Decker has a keen sense of pacing, and that’s important in this type of film. The slow, deliberate way in which Jackson and her husband ( played by Micheal Stuhlbarg) is enhanced by how methodical this film is. The ensemble performance was solid as well. Stuhlbarg’s take on Stanley (Jackson’s husband) was a pleasant surprise. Moss’s portrayal of Shirley was scintillating and energized any moment she was in during the film.
It’s rare to get access at home this soon to one of the best films of the year, but Shirley proves to be the exception. Brilliant writing and Moss’s amazing performance make this one that shouldn’t be missed.