Horror comedy is a genre that’s notoriously a tough nut to crack. Creatives just can’t get it right. If I had to hazard a guess, it would be that they don’t or can’t follow one of the genre’s unwritten rules, which says that the horror and comedy parts must be effective on their own for the story to work.
And that’s difficult because the tones are inherently contradictory. It’s not easy to get the audience laughing while the characters are being hunted by demons, zombies, vampires and the like.
For example, if it’s a zombie comedy, there should be enough gore and guts to turn even the hardest of stomachs. Because of this, movies like Shaun of the Dead by Edgar Wright and shows like Ash vs Evil Dead by Sam Raimi are the best the genre has to offer. You get it right.
Jeff Astrof and Sharon Horgan’s Shining Vale doesn’t quite live up to that, but it’s still a nice addition to the genre. The series stars Courteney Cox (Monica from Friends) and Greg Kinnear as a couple – Patricia, a writer who suffers from authors’ chronic illnesses of writer’s block, alcoholism and depression, and Terry Phelps, a mild-mannered insurance agent and weakling. respectively. The Phelps struggle to keep their marriage alive after Patricia is caught cheating on her husband.
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They move with their children Gaynor (Gusbirey) and Jake (Dylan Cage) from the city to a small town, the eponymous Shining Vale. Because moving to greener pastures should help them overcome their differences.
Big enough to be a mansion, their new home harbors dark, violent secrets, something Terry Patricia dares not tell. And soon enough things start to get bumpy at night. More specifically, Patricia sees intermittent visions of a mysterious, attractive woman, Rosemary Wellingham (Mira Sorvino), who claims she was a 1950’s housewife and, more rarely, a little girl, both of whom are believed to be the long-dead occupants of the home.
Patricia is so used to mental health issues that she assumes Rosemary is just one of her personalities. And indeed, she behaves like a personality, taking over Patricia and even writing her book for her.
If this all sounds very familiar, then yes, it is, and it is meant to be. Shining Vale revels in references and callbacks to old horror and even Friends. It’s derivative, but there’s an undercurrent of confidence that keeps it from feeling hackneyed, like the first few seasons of Stranger Things (I wasn’t a fan of that until season four).
As fear mounts, so does humor, and it’s often a variant of laughing out loud. Cox uses her well-honed comedic skills, which served her well in Friends, to great effect here. But she also proves her dramatic skills in Shining Vale. Everyone else in the cast is great too, but Cox is the MVP.
There’s a nice balance in tone here. And the show can be enjoyed even if you are unfamiliar with American pop culture. While Shining Vale isn’t perfect, it offers plenty of entertainment value.
Shining Vale is good scary fun. Watch it on Lionsgate Play in India.