It Takes Evil to Write Evil. “Shirley” reviewed! (Neon / Digital Screener)


Backdropped inside the mid-1960’s of Bennington, Vermont, famed horror fiction writer, Shirley Jackson, and her husband, Stanley Hyman, a folk literary professor at the Bennington College, welcome a young newlywed couple, Fred & Rose, in their home, but the stay isn’t for social purposes as Fred stands to be the assistant professor aiming to achieve greater success under professor Hyman and Rose becomes the happy wife whose reluctantly willing to help with household chores as the surly Shirley flounders in a writer’s rut, sour around polite company, lethargic for most of the day, and at war with her cheating husband, but Shirley finds inspiration when taking a fascination to Rose, merging her with a news story of a missing local girl that leaves Shirley entranced, catatonic, and inhibited from writing her novel. Once disdained by Rose’s very presence, Shirley exploits Rose’s eager ambitions and trustworthy attributes by befriending her as an endless flood of literary muse offerings that breathe life into Shirley’s next masterpiece.

“Shirley” is a biopic allegory of half-truths and a tale of a grim waltz between common civility and the yearning, paralyzing pursuit of opus mastering from the “Madeline’s Madeline” director, Josephine Decker. From the creator of the “I Love Dick” television series, writer, Sarah Gubbins, who adapted the screenplay from the author of “Shirley: A Novel,” Susan Scarf Merrell, provides a textural interpretation of renowned horror and mystery fiction writer Shirley Jackson during the bitter final years of her and Stanley Hyman’s unusual, yet threadbare functional, relationship. “Shirley,” in itself, is like one of Jackson’s terrifically terrifying horror stories woven together with anecdotal fragments of Shirley’s flailing existence with the new energy of a fictional young couple to drain the life from for her own benefit and is cinematically arranged the story like a perverse thriller of intellectual capitalism. The Los Angeles Media Fund (“Dark Crimes,” “The Bye Bye Man”) and the biographical drama producing powerhouse, Killer Films (“Notorious Bettie Page,” “Infamous”) serve as the production companies behind “Shirley.”

Hot off her success in the gender-dystopian television series, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and in Leigh Whannell’s vision of a Universal monster classic, “The Invisible Man,” Elisabeth Moss embodies the titular role of Shirley Jackson with a fluid performance of a corkscrew soul. Moss aims to make Shirley as a detestable gorgon with nihilistic and agoraphobic intellect and a narcissistic view of her work she considers to be the holy grail. Moss is methodic and calculating in her character’s icy social skill set and floats half-seen above the water’s surface like an alligator hunting, ready to snap when a warm blooded meal doesn’t expect a thing. Shirley Jackson is only as interesting as her philandering other half, Stanley Hyman, who has a whole separate cache of quirks and callous intentions, though parading in a much more vibrant, lively, and gregarious manner. “The Shape of Water’s” Michael Sthulbarg has pitch perfect execution of Hyman’s managing tugboat who pulls and escorts this cruise liner-sized ego to port with an unorthodox show of a manipulation and affable disingenuous blend working tirelessly that ship to anchor after a long voyage on rough, stagnant seas. Fred and Rose enter like a parallelogram, a four-side rectangular where two sides pair together equally in length, of innocents wondering into a den of a pair of hungry lions. Then, the parallelogram flips and skews to form an twisted mirror of itself that has turned the sweet and loving Fred and Rose into a pair of awaken fragments of Shirley and Stanley. We don’t get to experience much of Logan Lerman as the assistant professor who shadows in Hyman’s overshadowing dominance, but we’re rather engrossed by Odessa Young’s onscreen reciprocity with Elizabeth Moss. Rose falls short of being the epitome of youthful innocence with a fast and loose shotgun marriage to Fred because of her pregnancy and her rendezvousing sexual appetite with Fred, but Rose’s delicate curiosity and naïve gives way for Shirley, Stanley, and even Fred to tread all over her. Young fully grasps Rose’s disadvantage in the viper’s pit that sizes her up for a great fall.

“Shirley” doesn’t bask in the spotlight of the biopic-ee’s celebrated work, like “The Lottery” or “The Haunting of Hill House,” even if it name drops the former; instead, Josephine Decker’s film is cut from the Susan Scarf Merrell cloth that disconnects and desensitizes intellect from moral conduct. Distinct lines are drawn between the couples Shirley and Stanley, whose dynamic teeters on alcohol, smokes, and a banter based on a fraction of love less, and Fred and Rose, who are teased with the taste of the good life, bow and scrape for the attention of their hosts. As the scrupulous infatuations begin to blur the lines and Fred and Rose become infected by Shirley and Stanley’s inceptive wicked cynicism, a metamorphosis occurs as the naïve newlyweds are now the bitterly tireless unable to cop with their shortcoming whereas Shirley and Stanley remain unaffected, if not, better off than from when they started, leeching the purity from the impressionable youngsters like a pair of scholarly vampires. Decker’s airy, dreamlike touch evokes another level of the already Freudian bombarded “Shirley” that’s laden with heavily schemed psychoanalytic foreplay and undercurrent human reaction to a string of unconventional occurrences.

Become the fly trapped in a web of deceits with “Shirley” heading to Hulu, VOD, virtual cinemas, and select drive-in movie theaters come June 5th, 2020 distributed from Neon. The rated R, 107 minutes quasi-biopic is presented a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Unfortunately, a digital screener doesn’t allow me to critique the A/V quality. However, composer Tamar-kali’s subdued score lingers on the right side of brooding without feeling overly dreadful and with feeling more horrifically intrusive, complimenting Shirley’s aggressive mind rape of Rose’s psyche. There were no bonus features included with the digital screener nor was there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. Unlike the sullen, reality bending state as the titular persona, “Shirley” is an entertainingly cathartic glimpse into the worst side of erudition plagued upon those lesser informed that builds lustrous works of horror on the backs of perfidy.

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The EVIL In Our Past Will Forever Plague. “Ever After” reviewed!


A plague has decimated the world, turning citizens into crazed, flesh eating zombies. In Germany, only two cities have survived the devastating apocalypse the last two years – Weimar and Jena. In Weimar, the infected are immediately eradicated on site without exceptions. In Jena, compassionate individuals strive for a cure for the diseased. Weimar residents, Vivi and Eva, sneak out of the authoritative camp for their own personal reasons and flee toward Jena’s safe-haven policy in hopes for a better way of life, but a perilous journey through the horde occupied Black Forest stands in between them and salvation. Without weapons, food, and one liter of water between them, chances of coming out unscathed are slim-to-none as long as nothing separates them from assisting their survival.

Based off the illustrated graphic novel of the same name written by Olivia Viewig, “Endzeit,” also known as “Ever After” in the English translation, hits the big screen in the 2018 film adaptation under the orchestration of a female, Sweden-born director Carolina Hellsgård as her sophomore feature with Viewig herself providing the script treatment. With pop culture entrenched and seemingly an extension of herself, Olivia Viewig is by trade a German cartoonist best known for her quirky “Why Cats…” series, a children’s book author, and regularly contributions to the world of Manga to which she was influenced. Viewig then turned to horror with “Endzeit” that served as a graduating studies project that earned her a University degree in 2012. The initially 72-page full-length comic became extended six years later in 2018 by a major German publisher named Carlsen and served as the basis of the script for the film about to be covered below that’s a coming-of-age film that also symbolizes passing of the torch for two young and dissimilar women scrambling between two opposing worlds with a common calamity.

Initially, “Ever After” focuses around the immense struggles of a shut-in named Vivi, a character instilled with paralyzing fear and guilt that has more or less clinically diagnoses her as an extreme agoraphobic whose been hasn’t stepped outside the last two years ever since the plague occurred. “Nothing Bad Can Happen” actress Gro Swantje Kohlhof envelopes herself as the “weakling” her character is ascribed by hardened and callous Weimar survivors, but as Kohlhof evolves Vivi’s fragile resolve into something more concrete, Kohlhof also opens a little more trait range for Vivi when she is finally pushed across the threshold of letting go her fear and guilt. Eva can be said as Vivi’s hard-bitten muse whose looking for a softer slice of life and as Eva becomes engulfed in Vivi’s massively sheltered circle by chance, the former Weimar grunt is able to crack through the hardened exterior and let someone like Vivi into be a calming force in her own anxiety riddled interior. Maja Lehrer compliments as the aggressor in an encouraging pair of diverse female characters driven by their regrettable past to never look back on it and keep moving forward to a better prospect that’ll wash their souls clean. Haired tied back tight, form-fitting mercenary-esque clothing, and a self-preserving attitude to match, Lehrer rounds Eva out well to arch her role hard when Vivi is ready to take the reins as an apocalyptic ranger of the Black Forest. In the forest, Vivi and Eva encounter a mystical being, a half-breed of sorts between living and dead, who doesn’t have a name but goes by The Gardener is played by Denmark actress Trine Dyrholm. Since “Ever After” references quite a bit about nature taking the world from man, I’d like Dyrholm represents Mother Nature as the character invites Vivi to her abundant tomato green house, a serene scenery of low-hanging fruit trees, and the character herself has vines and leaves growing out of the side of a human face and can temporary restore or extend life to a person. Vivi and Eva’s brief encounter prompt’s a change in them both that defines their destiny going forward toward Jena. The cast rounds out with minor roles from Barbara Philipp, Yuho Yamashita, Amy Schuk, Axel Warner, Muriel Wimmer, and Ute Wieckhorst.

If you’re looking for blood, “Ever After” is not that kind of zombie film that glorifies the flesh chomping violence but rather utilizes the violence as a motivator for Vivi and Eva to embark from safety, but that isn’t to say the sheer zombie terror is omitted or even diluted. The mass of running undead continues to be a force of concentrated fear with heart pounding side effects, much carried over from Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Late” and Zack Synder’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” and director Hellsgård seldomly relies on a crazed horde to be the mindless exploit of “Ever After’s” core message. Instead, the story clearly defines the growth and understanding Vivi and Eva as individuals and as part of something more, taught in part by their short time with The Gardener, and a highly reflective poignant past that ripples through their memory banks over and over again. Their ambitions nearly shot from existence at the beginning of the apocalypse to the start of their Black Forest voyage have found harmony in letting the past be the past by the end of the story. Once could call it a coming-of-age to see the two women elevate themselves from a place of inner turmoil and, in my opinion, the two women part of that is greatly important because “Ever After” is almost, about 95%, completely female cast driven. So, not only is the story a coming of age one, but also speaks upon self-reliance and empowerment for women.

The swotted comic of Olivia Viewig gains a visual odyssey amongst the undead catalogue with a Blu-ray release of the Das Kleine Fernsehspiel and Grown Up Films production, “Ever After,” distributed by MVDVisual and Juno Films. Stored on a BD-25 and presented in an anamorphic widescreen of it’s original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, “Ever After’s” 1080p full high definition image is sleek to every sensory receptor in the eye and captures the topographic thickets of Germany landscapes in grand wide angles. There is not a lot of tint work here, if any, and relies much on the luminescent and glowing beauty of natural light. The German language DTS-HD 5.1 master audio sufficiently taps into all five channels without overbearing results from zombie hordes. Instead, the focal points here discern more on the tiny tunes and tones of nature. Also included in the setup is an option for a 2.0 LCPM Stereo Audio track and English subtitles, which appear accurate but are hastily paced. Other than a static menu, the region free, 90 minute runtime release bares no special features other than the trailer. “Ever After” is an ascension from within the very weary genre oeuvre, encouraging the strength to stomach guilt and fear as important, but presently irrelevant if one wishes to change with a world that has redesigned around them.

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