When a dinner party attendee asks horror writer Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss) what she’s working on, she responds, “A little novella I’m calling ‘None of your damn business.'”
The real-life author, who penned novels including The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, is the source of inspiration for the new film Shirley. And though the writer may have previously kept her work close to the vest, in this film, it’s bleeding into her home life.
Moss plays Jackson, a secretive author known to have “bouts” of depression. She’s married to literary critic Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg), and the couple’s lives are forever altered when another pair enters their mysterious orbit. The film, based on the novel by Susan Scarf Merrell, won a special jury prize at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. The official synopsis reads:
Renowned horror writer Shirley Jackson is on the precipice of writing her masterpiece when the arrival of newlyweds (Odessa Young and Logan Lerman) 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.
The psychological thriller’s first trailer suggests the lines between reality and fiction will be blurred. “What becomes of your dear heroine?” Stanley asks his wife. “What happens to all lost girls—they go mad,” Shirley replies, referencing more than just a character in her book.
Directed by Josephine Decker (Madeline’s Madeline) and written by Sarah Gubbins (Better Things), Shirley will be released by Neon on demand and in drive-in theaters on June 5.