Want More Courteney Cox in a Horror-Comedy? Watch ‘Shining Vale’
Early on in Scream 4 (2011), Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) sits by her laptop with an empty page, stuck with writer’s block. She angrily types out, “I have no fucking idea what to write.” The return of Ghostface brings a new body count and, fingers crossed, an increased word count to Gale’s new book. On Shining Vale, Courteney Cox is back in a horror-comedy, the premise swapping out a slasher for the supernatural. The series on Starz gives nods to horror favorites, like The Shining (1980), while being a showcase for Cox as the versatile actress she. For those who feel Gale gets too limited of screen time in Scream VI (2023), Shining Vale lets Courteney Cox go all in on her dramatic and comedic chops, and when she lets out a shriek of horror, it maintains she will never lose her Scream Queen crown.
‘Shining Vale’ Haunts Something Old and Something New
Patricia “Pat” Phelps (Cox) moves her family into a derelict mansion within the community of Shining Vale. It’s a new start for everyone, but mostly for Pat, since she cheated on her bubbly husband Terry (Greg Kinnear). Their socially awkward son Jake (Dylan Gage) loves the house’s backyard, not for the nature but for the space to explore when using his VR headset. And their daughter Gaynor (Gus Birney) is full of teen angst who will do plenty to piss off her mother. The Phelps family have enough to deal with the move, and they don’t even realize it’s haunted, Pat is the one to meet the ghostly occupant, Rosemary (Mira Sorvino), who has big plans for the Phelps matriarch. Why not move out? Well, financial reasons and because Pat needs Rosemary, even if its costs her dearly.
In the first episode, a passage reads, “Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression,” Symptoms are then added, including hallucinations and a sense of helplessness, before following it up with another passage, “Women are also roughly twice as likely to be possessed by a demon,” then adding, “the symptoms are the same.” This opening sets the tone and Cox follows it up with her leading, abrasive character. Pat was a wild child and found fame by writing an erotic, female empowerment novel. Since then, the success has been dwindling and Pat is in need of a new big hit. Besides a struggling writer, she can fill up a family swear jar all on her own as a stressed out mom and a reckless spouse. If that isn’t enough, Pat also has past troubles with addiction and a family history of mental illness. Which is a lot for anyone to deal with, but Pat’s abrasive personality assures audiences she can take care of herself — until she can’t.
Courteney Cox Discovers A New Meaning to Ghost Writing
What really hinders her new start are encounters with resident ghost and ’50s housewife, Rosemary, who knows how to hit Pat’s self-destruct buttons. Allowing herself to be possessed, Pat is swiftly typing up her what might be a bestseller. But Rosemary is no creative muse; she can be petty when she doesn’t get what she wants. And then there’s the matter Rosemary could possibly be a demonic entity. But Pat is so hard-headed, she isn’t seeing the danger. When Rosemary tries to bait Pat into admitting she has thought of killing her family, Pat scoffs. “I’m a mother, of course I have!” she yells back. Despite Rosemary’s dark agenda, Pat is hyper-focused on making this new book a success, no matter the risk. What’s a little possession in the grand scheme of things? To paraphrase Gale Weathers from ‘96, do you know what that could do for her book sales?
Shining Vale isn’t only about a haunting, it’s also about generational trauma, addiction, and mental health. Teenage daughter Gaynor and Pat don’t see eye-to-eye, the moments they do, are fleeting, and it’s all part of a cycle. Judith Light enters as Pat’s mother, Joan. The two have a rocky relationship since Pat placed her temporarily in a mental hospital years ago. While Joan still loves her daughter, she has never forgiven her for this, and with the show’s humor, this is all made clear within seconds. As Pat tries to leave Joan’s house, her mother keeps stretching the conversation out, bringing up her forced hospital stay by describing it as, “Where you put me away. When you had me committed. Against my will.” And then as Pat reaches the door, Joan calls out, “Ring once when you get home so I know you made it safe!”
Cox is definitely up to the challenge of the intricate struggles in Shining Vale. There is little in common between Pat and the obsessive-compulsive Monica from Friends; Pat is much closer to the ruthless diva Gale Weathers, who is goal-oriented, but in every Scream movie, gets a reality check. Except, there is no big moment for Pat Phelps, any reality check coming too late. Her abrasive nature traps her in the final minutes of Season 1’s finale. Cox’s performance shows Pat in a frantic, terrified state, and she acts the hell out of it.
All Work and No Play Makes Patty a Dull Girl
Co-creators Jeff Astrof and Sharon Horgan never hide their show’s influence from The Shining. It’s everywhere, from the title, to curtains with the iconic Overlook Hotel’s rug pattern, to dates stamped onto the screen for a transition. And of course, there’s Pat, who recreates several moments with different outcomes from the Stephen King adaptation. Usually in a haunted house setup like this, it’s the husband and father who forces the family to move for a new start due to his own problems. It’s seen in The Shining with the abusive Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and AHS: Murder House with the cheating Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott). Without the cheating aspect, even Craig T. Nelson in Poltergeist (1982) was the reason his family lived in their haunted home, thanks to a real estate job. On Shining Vale, it’s the mother and wife who’s to blame.
This gender switch subverts the “mother figure” of the mentioned horror content. Pat Phelps doesn’t have the warmth of Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall), who tries so hard to put the needs of her son over a wrathful husband. Pat has a more toxic carefree attitude than Diane Freeling (JoBeth Williams), who jumps for joy when she realizes ghosts can move the kitchen chairs and smokes a joint with her husband in the bedroom. And Pat is not as nearly under an attack as Vivian Harmon (Connie Britton), who at the Murder House, is in distress from her husband’s mistress and the house’s violent paranormal activity. Pat won’t be winning the Mother of the Year award any time soon, nor does she care much about that. When Pat tries to replicate Rosemary’s facade of sweetness one morning, her family react in confusion or for her daughter, in annoyance over getting lunch money. So naturally Pat reverts to her old self, “Jesus fuck Gaynor, I gave you free money just say fucking thank you.”
There’s no better time to binge all the episodes of this Starz series, with Scream Vl out and Shining Vale Season 2 coming soon. Courteney Cox may be able to just lock out Ghostface should a killer pick up the costume and attack. She can at least escape in other ways, even make big moves like from traveling out of Woodsboro to New York City. In Shining Vale, Cox isn’t able to leave the grand, haunted mansion for too long, her own urges bringing her back because maybe this time it will be different for her. But sorry Pat, that isn’t how the supernatural works, especially if what she’s encountering might be something from the chasm of Hell.