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Shining Girls (2022) IMDB description: “Years after a brutal attack left her in a constantly shifting reality, Kirby Mazrachi learns that a recent murder is linked to her assault. She teams with a veteran reporter to understand her ever-changing present and confront her past.”
Why I Took it off the list: I first heard of the novel The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes when the TV series adaptation was first announced in July 2020. Intrigued by the premise, I decided to read the book before the show came out.
This was a bit of a risky move, as page-to-screen adaptations can often massively let you down if you experience the former first. But this is not always the case. Sometimes, the novel has intriguing ideas and the bare bones of a good story but falls down a bit in the execution, leaving room for improvement in the transition to film or TV.
High-profile examples include The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2013-15), and the vast majority of Stephen King adaptations. And I felt like The Shining Girls had the potential to be another, as the novel has a unique concept and is very atmospheric, but gets let down by a messy structure, some hokey explanations, and some simplistic, cringy character writing.
So with Elisabeth Moss taking on the lead role and a team of veteran prestige TV directors behind it, I was intrigued to see how the series would translate to screen, and was mildly optimistic!
Review of Shining Girls (2022)
The great thing about the Shining Girls TV show is that it maintains some of the best parts of the novel while making some smart changes that definitely elevate and improve it.
The novel pretty much gives away its central mystery early on – who the mysterious murderer exactly is and how he is doing what he’s doing – and instead puts the focus on sketching out the POV of the many female victims he claims before he snuffs out their bright potential or ‘shine’.
While this admirably fleshes out the victims and gives them a voice, it also takes away from the murder mystery element – something that the TV show massively plays up to great success. While Kriby Mazrachi is undoubtedly the protagonist of the book as well, the series sticks far closer to her point of view as she begins to unravel the mystery of her attacker.
Also, (SPOILER!) the series uses its surprising element of time travel – also a major part of the book – much better. Instead of the killer being the only one affected by the temporal disturbances, the series depicts Kirby as being launched into a new timeline with each brutal action of the murderer.
This is thematically appropriate for a trauma survivor who constantly feels like the rug is being pulled out from under her. But it also makes for some incredibly tense and disturbing sequences and allows for a higher sense of stakes for the characters.
Proves an Ideal Vehicle for Elisabeth Moss
Another improvement from the book is the characterization of the killer, Harper, who came across as a morally bankrupt down and out who just happened to fall into his murderous career in the book. And the explanations for his choice of victims were kind of confusing, hokey, and undercooked.
In the series, however, he’s much more of an obvious sociopath whose killer misogyny comes more from frustrated desire and a disturbing need to possess beautiful things that he can’t have. The fact that he’s also played by Jamie Bell as unassuming and charming most of the time makes him even more chilling a figure in the show.
The series also greatly improves the thin characterizations of Kirby’s mother (Amy Brenneman) and her co-worker Dan (Wagner Moura) into more recognizably three-dimensional beings and shaves off some of their more cliche aspects from the book. Moss’ Handmaid’s Tale co-star Madeline Brewer also shines (both literally and metaphorically) as an early victim of Harper.
However, at the end of the day, much like Her Smell (2018) which I recently reviewed, the series is above all else a vehicle for Elisabeth Moss’s excellent acting abilities.
Moss nails the wounded yet determined and defiant protagonist from the novel. But the choice to have Kirby’s reality constantly shifting also gifts the actress a range of alternate, subtly different personalities to play, which she pulls off effortlessly.
Excellent Production Design and Period Details
The series also sticks close to the faithfully rendered and impressively detailed depictions of Chicago through different eras of the last century that Beukes crafted in her book, and brings the period details to vivid life on screen.
The world of retro print journalism and the 90s-era Chicago Sun-Times offices feel lovingly crafted and lived-in, as do the 80s punk rock bars and 20s flapper joints that also factor into the story.
Perhaps the biggest coup in the adaptation, though, is the depiction of the time travel mechanism. As in the book, it’s an unassuming, neglected house on the outside full of strange vibes and jarring anachronisms on the inside.
The house is beautifully rendered, almost exactly to a tee from Beukes’ descriptions in the novels, and gives you the real sense of something sinister and otherworldly at work while the characters are inside its walls.
As in the book, there’s not much of an explanation given for its existence, but the unsettling lighting and production and sound design leave you with the feeling that maybe it’s better off that way.
Final Score: 8/10
Shining Girls (2022): Worth Watching?
Yes, a tense murder mystery with a reality-bending twist, Shining Girls is a gripping series adaptation that actually makes several improvements from the novel, and is full of fantastic production design, acting, and a satisfying story.
Shining Girls (2022)
Created by Silka Luisa
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Wagner Moura, Phillipa Soo
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