Elisabeth Moss has stepped out of her comfort zone, playing novelist Shirley Jackson in the upcoming thriller about the author’s life.
Rather than a standard biopic, director Josephine Decker and writer Sarah Gubbins have taken inspiration from Susan Scarf Merrell’s novel about the famous author for the flick that has featured at London Film Festival.
It’s resulted in an eerie tale that mixes truth with fiction, and follows the writer and her husband (Michael Stuhlbarg) as a young couple (Odessa Young and Logan Lerman) move in with them.
As Shirley’s mental health declines, strange happenings go on throughout the house, with the writer getting some major inspiration for her next novel – but at what cost?
Who was Shirley Jackson?
Jackson was a novelist, renowned for her horror and mystery tales.
Her career spanned more than two decades, with the writer clearly never short of inspiration as she penned six novels, two memoirs, and more than 200 short stories.
Some of her most famous work includes The Haunting Of Hill House, which resulted in a wildly popular Netflix adaptation, and her short story The Lottery.
With The Haunting Of Hill House being considered one of the best ghost stories ever written, Jackson has also inspired modern-day authors including Stephen King and Neil Gaiman.
In fact, Gaiman told The New York Times of his favourite horror books: ‘Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House beats them all: a maleficent house, real human protagonists, everything half-seen or happening in the dark.
‘It scared me as a teenager and it haunts me still, as does Eleanor, the girl who comes to stay.’
Meanwhile, King has said of her work: ‘It is the character of Eleanor and Shirley Jackson’s depiction of it that elevates The Haunting of Hill House into the ranks of the great supernatural novels—indeed, it seems to me that it and James’s The Turn of the Screw are the only two great novels of the supernatural in the last hundred years.’
Jackson died at the age of 48 in 1965, with her death being attributed to a coronary occlusion (partial or complete obstruction of blood flow in a coronary artery). However, her legacy has lived on.
How much of the film is true?
Since the movie is adapted from Merrell’s novel, some of the story has, of course, been dramatised.
Actress Elisabeth also admitted there were certain blanks she had to fill in, telling IndieWire of the quirky mannerisms she added: ‘I don’t know where I came up with this s**t.
‘There was stuff that was factual, there was stuff that we discussed. Michael [Stuhlbarg] and I, and Sarah [Gibbons], and Jo [Decker], and then there was just stuff that I made up.
‘It just came out, and I felt like it was right. I followed that instinct with her physicality. There are photos, but there’s nothing really that says anything about her physicality.’
Jackson’s real-life husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, is played by Stuhlbarg in the movie, however the couple that move in – Rose and Fred Nesmar – are fictional creations.
Jackson also did struggle with her mental health, seeing a psychiatrist for severe anxiety near the end of her life. She also suffered from agoraphobia (a fear of open or crowded spaces, or leaving the home), which in her case, made it difficult for her to leave her house.
The film also shows Jackson’s unwavering dedication to her work, which her son Laurence has previously opened up about, telling The Guardian: ‘She did work hard.
‘She was always writing, or thinking about writing.’
Shirley is released in the UK on October 30, 2020.
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