Shirley Jackson has been overdue for the biopic treatment.
Perhaps the most impactful voice in 19th century gothic horror, Jackson’s influence has hovered over the genre like a ghost. She gave us classic novels like “The Haunting of Hill House” and “We Have Always Lived In The Castle”, and if you’ve ever taken a high school English class, you’ve probably read her seminal short story “The Lottery”.
Now, fresh off a buzzworthy debut at Sundance in January, we have our first trailer for Shirley. And if you weren’t already excited for this one, you’ve got several reasons to be.
From a narrative standpoint, it’s a huge relief that Jackson isn’t getting the standard birth-to-death hagiographic treatment. This is a biopic in the sense that it’s about a historical figure, but because it’s based on a 2014 novel and not an actual biography, there’s more to it.
As the trailer shows us, Jackson and her husband, Stanley Hyman, welcome a young couple (Fred and Rose Nesmer) to stay with them for an extended period. And as the early reviews have revealed, these two (particularly Rose) become inspiration for Jackson’s next novel. (Perhaps the “little novella” she mentions in the trailer called “none of your goddamn business.”)
Then there’s the matter of who’s playing the role of Jackson, and from our first glimpse, the casting couldn’t have been better. Elisabeth Moss has been one of her generation’s best actors ever since Mad Men, and as we saw earlier this year from The Invisible Man, she knows her way around a horror script. (If you’re still not convinced, look up a photo of Shirley Jackson. The resemblance is eerie.)
You may have noticed that the cinematography looks more artful than a standard Hollywood biopic. That’s because Josephine Decker, director of the terrific experimental drama Madeline’s Madeline (also a Sundance premiere), was behind the camera. Based on her previous films, Decker was an inspired choice for this adaptation.
And then there’s the distributor, Neon, whom genre fans should be familiar with if not wholly confident in by now. They’re the company who brought us films like Colossal, Revenge, Assassination Nation, Monos, The Lodge, and a little movie from South Korea called Parasite.
All in all, it’s an excellent trailer filled with snappy dialogue, suspenseful strings, beautiful shots, and an intriguing premise. But the real selling point here is the opportunity to dive into the mind of one of our most heralded American authors. The “psychological drama/thriller” label is often a disappointment in genre film, but those films don’t have this kind of advantage.
Shirley will be “available everywhere” June 5. You can read “The Lottery” now via The New Yorker.