Shirley

*** When it comes to holding an audience hostage, there's no better actress than Elisabeth Moss. As writer Shirley Jackson, the actress owns this drama by playing the type of tortured heroine that helped her rise to prominence (The Handmaid's Tale, Her Smell). The film, based on Susan Scarf Merrell's novel of the same name, imagines the life of the literary figure and her husband, famed critic and liberal arts professor Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg), in 1960s Vermont. They're soon joined by Fred (Logan Lerman), who's hired as Stanley's campus assistant, and his newly pregnant wife, Rose (Odessa Young). The young couple plan to temporarily stay with Jackson and Hyman while they search for a place of their own but find themselves lingering much longer than they'd prefer. At first, things seem normal. Fred becomes increasingly busy with academic life, while Rose forms a dubious connection with Jackson as she works as their housekeeper. But following the success of her short story "The Lottery," Jackson becomes increasingly stressed while penning her next novel. Like the characters she famously wrote about years later in works like The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Jackson's stress morphs into hysteria. The film reflects that madness with disorienting camerawork and perversely enjoyable dream sequences. Director Josephine Decker proves she's a specialist when it comes to shifting genres, as Shirley jumps from horror to domestic drama to gothic fairy tale with ease, giving Moss the chance to do a bit of everything, and the audience an opportunity to see Jackson's menacing style of storytelling come to life on film. R. ASHER LUBERTO. Amazon Prime, Google Play.