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.

Purchase the poster with Elizabeth Moss!

Evil Wants You to Say it’s Name! “The Bye Bye Man” review!


Elliot, Sasha, and John move into an old manor home just off the university’s campus. The tight knit three friends stumble upon a tattered nightstand with scribbled nonsense inside the drawer and underneath the incoherent writing and scratched into the wood is The Bye Bye Man. Once you hear the name, a searing imprint has been made into the mind, opening up a layer within the universe that invites a grim reaper-like figure to come horrifically collect individuals who have been infected with the name. The mysterious malevolence will impose hallucinations, or tricks, upon the mind to induce others to commit evil acts on another and will stop at nothing until those who know his name are either end up dead or spread his vileness. For Elliot, Sasha, and John, their close relationships will be tested, they’re bodies will be challenged, and their minds will be altered in a race against the clock in order to beat death, to defeat The Bye Bye Man.

“The Bye Bye Man” is an Universal Pictures and STX Entertainment distributed boogeyman concept from 1995’s “The Last Supper” director Stacy Title. Title, who hasn’t been active for about ten years since her last directorial, helms the project written by her husband, an appropriately named Jonathan Penner, who also had a co-starring role in “The Last Supper.” The inspiration stems from a collection of horrific tales from Robert Damon Schneck’s “The President’s Vampire: Strange-but-True Tales of the United States of America,” but “The Bye Bye Man” borrows heavily from well-crafted horror brethren too, birthing a mythological personification of death that doesn’t wield a scythe, but rather being a master, underneath a dark hooded cloak, to a hellish beast that munches on the faces of The Bye Bye Man’s victims. “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Final Destination,” and a little bit of “Scream” become the selected examples that are the genetic makeup of TItle and Penner’s film, but doesn’t grossly rip from the said works, two of which are the late Wes Cravens masterpieces. Instead, Jonathan Penner reconfigures the nightmare man, a modern day Freddy Krueger type stalking every soul during the day and night hours, whom establishes his own brand of Rube Goldberg deaths through deadly vision inflictions that pray upon a human’s moral subconscious. “Don’t say it. Don’t think it” sets as the 2017 film’s tagline with the notion that perhaps little white lies are, literally, lifesavers or that the truth can be hurtful, and or knowledge can be powerful, but can also lead to your own demise.

“Ouija’s” Douglas Smith succumbs to his lead role of Elliot, an educated and patient young man who seems to have everything despite tragic misfortune that’s whisked through the character development. From friends, to a supportive brother, to a loving girlfriend, Smith transition seamlessly to languishing burden during a spotlight scene with co-star Carrie-Anne Moss (“Matrix”) that’s raw and cuttingly empathetic. The story centers around Elliot, but Sasha and John have pivotable relationships to Elliot, two essential roles given to two British actors, former girl of Prince Harry, Cressida Bonas, and television actor Lucien Laviscount. Both Bonas and Laviscount expensed drab performances, mechanically and, often, monotonically coming and going from scene-to-scene without mingling well into the rest of the film’s grim and dire trimmed overalls that basically left Smith out to pick up the slack. Along with Carrie-Anne Moss, who always seems to be typecast in a women of power role and, in this case, a detective, “The Bye Bye Man” sports other veterans of both horror and general film, but; instead, take a backseat to a younger generation of actors. “HellBoy’s” Doug Jones silently strolls through one of the easiest prosthetically garbed performances of his illustrious career as the titular character, genre stable Leigh Whannell (“Saw”) commits to a haunting performance as a murder-suicide martyr, and the legendary Faye Dunaway portrays a longtime widow of the aforementioned madman. Michael Trucco (“Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled”), Jenna Kanell, Cleo King (“Hood of Horror”), and Erica Tremblay round out the supporting cast.

Universal picking up a horror title resembling an infantile kids feature and releasing it theatrically might with relatively unknown, mostly non-American cast, will scratch some questioning heads, but with a well oiled supporting cast consisting of many years of guild service, a director, despite being inactive for many years, maintaining a sensible and visionary eye, and a story, aside from a few underdevelopments, that captivates with edge of your seat scares and with next moment eagerness, “The Bye Bye Man” has great potential. With smoothing out details of Elliot’s and The Bye Bye Man’s backstories and construing more of a slow burn method when getting the characters involved with the ‘don’t think it, don’t say it’ villain name, Universal would have increased their gross profits by double and the world would be happy once again. Unfortunately, that scenario was not the case as credits bombarded “The Bye Bye Man” as about as borrowed and as hokey as any low-budget horror film can be, but “The Bye Bye Man” surpassed the production budget by triple and to me, someone who generally has the same stance as most credits, that’s a win for Stacy Title and company.

The Intrepid Pictures and Los Angeles Media Fund production “The Bye Bye Man” makes a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment debut on a two-version unrated Blu-ray and DVD combo. The MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p Blu-ray disc contains a razor sharp image in the 1.85:1 presentation. Depth and shadows phenomenally define the space, especially in closer quarters and the ariel shots. A motif of bleak black and grim grey is consistent throughout, creating a tone through the darker shades, with vivid hues to gloriously fend for themselves amongst the achromatic reel landscape. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound doesn’t feign in the balance category with dialogue prevalence not short of excellence and, much like other atmospheric horror, the spooky elements are outlined in various levels from a coin dropping to a train horn. Bonus features are surprisingly zilch with no extras on either format; I guess there wasn’t much to say during or post-film. In all, “The Bye Bye Man” is a total hack with plot holes. A completely borrowed and revamped product with a terribly childish title promising nothing to the genre, but that doesn’t necessarily mean “The Bye Bye Man” can’t be entertaining, providing a wicked sense of humor and a morbid final destination outlook with unexpected casting choices and a barely bordering PG-13 horror rendering.

Say Buy to “The Bye Bye Man” at Amazon.com!