Women in horror: The lovely ladies of Shining Vale

Shining Vale - Courtesy of Frank Ockenfels III/STARZ
Shining Vale - Courtesy of Frank Ockenfels III/STARZ /

Shining Vale is five episodes in on Starz, and it’s chock full of talented actresses playing interesting characters. It’s the perfect focus for our women in horror series as Women’s History Month winds down.

If you have been watching Shining Vale, you know that the central character is Pat Phelps, played by Courteney Cox. Pat was an author at one time, but has never been able to live up to her one truly successful book, a sexy tome titled Cressida Unbound.

Pat, her husband Terry (Greg Kinnear), and their teenage kids Gaynor (Gus Birney) and Jake (Dylan Gage) have relocated from the city to the quiet Connecticut town of Shining Vale after Pat had a fling with the handyman at their apartment building. Hoping to reconnect with her family and write a new novel, Pat has agreed to couples therapy, and is on meds to control her anxiety and depression.

Shining Vale
Shining Vale – Courtesy of Kat Marcinowski/STARZ /

But, Shining Vale is not quite the cathartic retreat Pat was hoping for. She starts seeing the ghost of a woman named Rosemary (Mira Sorvino) in the house, and eventually Rosemary begins to merge with Pat while the two write a book together.

Courteney Cox is at her manic best as Pat, fluctuating between comedic panic and sincere desperation. She really wants to write another successful novel, but also wants to improve her relationship with her family. From axing the wall of her closet (only to find a hidden tiki bar in the house) to expressing how afraid she is that her mental health is failing, Cox puts her whole heart into portraying Pat.

There are complicated mother-daughter relationships in Shining Vale.

Gaynor is another multi-faceted character, and Gus Birney plays each facet perfectly. Though the horny teen persona is very funny comic relief, she has also had an epiphany about her mother recently, thanks to Grandma Joan.

On the comedic side, Gaynor has started dressing in what she thinks is a staid and respectful style. Said style involves a cross necklace, super-tight blouses and super-short skirts. The reason for the change in personal style? A cute neighbor boy who is a member of the high school Chastity Club.

Gaynor has had a combative relationship with her mom, but a recent visit with Pat’s mother Joan has made her understand Pat a little better. Grams told Gaynor that she herself struggled with mental health and was eventually hospitalized. She is a bitter woman who treats Pat badly, criticizing her constantly.

Gaynor always resented her mother pushing her to go to college; after all, Pat never went to college. But, as it turns out, Pat didn’t go to college because she was visiting her mother in the hospital every single day.

In one of my favorite moments in the series so far, Gaynor walks into the house fresh from her stressful visit with Joan, and without a word, hugs a very startled Pat.

The other woman heavily featured in Shining Vale is the mysterious ghost, Rosemary. We still don’t know her whole story, but Mira Sorvino plays her as a dissatisfied housewife, who always looks elegant and well put together. As we have learned, her story is that she killed herself, but we don’t even know if she is telling the truth, Rosemary is a little shady.

In fact, she may have just tricked Pat into letting her take over permanently. She and Pat have been writing a book together through Rosemary possessing her for short stints, but now Rosemary has talked Pat into letting her take over for a longer spell…maybe forever, in fact.

Sorvino is really, really good as Rosemary, and I can’t wait to find out more about her real back story.

Of course, there are also more interesting female characters: Terry’s work colleague Kathryn (Alysia Reiner), the local realtor Robyn (Sherilyn Fenn), Pat’s determined editor and friend Kam (Merrin Dungey) and of course, Judith Light as Pat’s acerbic mother. With only three episodes to go, it doesn’t seem like there will be time to focus very much on these women, but that doesn’t mean the actresses aren’t doing a great job. It’s a solid cast all around.

Shining Vale is only available to stream on Starz. New subscribers can receive a special rate by visiting the website.

Next. Women in horror: Genre films directed by women, part one. dark

Are you a fun of Starz series Shining Vale? Give us your mini-reviews in the comments section.