Between fact and fantasy

Fred and Rose (Odessa Young & Logan Lerman), a young couple new to academia, are thrilled at the offer of temporary lodgings in the home of the campus literary critic (a terrific Michael Stuhlbarg). They are less warmly welcomed by his wife. Shirley (Elizabeth Moss) is a renowned author of horror novels, an agent
of chaos who uses her morose, agoraphobic and arrogant nature to fuel her creativity. What could go wrong?

Soon their residence has morphed into housekeeper status, Fred starts spending more time out vaguely advancing his career, and Rose finds herself the new muse of the difficult woman, who desperately needs to break her writer’s block and finish her new novel.

Being an inspiration to this horrid woman is not something one wants to be.

This one is difficult to categorize. Horror, perhaps, full of tension and innuendo, but no gore, supernatural goings-on or violence. Erotic thriller maybe. It centers on what’s inside the mind of this cruel genius. It’s not what you’d call a pleasant sit. Itchy maybe, unsettling. Intimate camerawork, unforgettable imagery and an off-kilter score keep you guessing.

Of the film’s many fine if macabre qualities, the astounding Moss stands out with a creepy, mesmerizing performance that will stay with you. Why has this actor never received and Oscar nom? The director is Josephine Decker (Madeline’s Madeline), working from a screenplay by Sarah Gubbins. (107 min)