Shining Girls Review: Elisabeth Moss Is Unstuck In Time In This Creepy, Mystifying Series

Having read Lauren Beukes' 2013 page-turner "The Shining Girls," I had somewhat of a grasp on what happens in "Shining Girls," the Apple TV+ adaptation of Buekes' book from creator Silka Luisa. But those who have no clue regarding the contents of the novel should expect to be almost completely lost during the show's initial episodes (four of which were made available to critics to coincide with an SXSW screening). "Shining Girls" plays things extremely close to the vest, so much so that it might grow frustrating. 

And yet, the swirling mystery and ever-shifting narrative also have a way of hooking you. You get so caught up in the strange uncertainty of it all that you find yourself eager to continue onward; to get to the next episode so you can get some sort of answer, damn it! With that in mind, "Shining Girls" might end up being a show that requires a binge-watch rather than in installments. 

At the center of all of this is Elisabeth Moss, who once again plays a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Moss clearly isn't concerned with being typecast as she seems to thrive playing such tormented women. And she's damn good at it, too. No matter how many times Moss plays a character at the end of her rope she always manages to make it compelling, adding different textural layers to each role. Here, she's Kirby, a woman living in the '90s, working at a Chicago newspaper. She seems reclusive and skittish, and we learn she has a good reason for that: years ago she was attacked and left for dead. Ever since then, she's been trying to find her assailant. And he's still out there, too. And he's still active. But there's more to him than meets the eye. 

Shifting reality

"Shining Girls" sets the stage for its strangeness from the jump, taking us back to 1964, where a mysterious man (Jamie Bell, subtly creepy) approaches a child sitting on a stoop and strikes up a conversation. He's friendly enough, but there's something off about this guy. The girl senses it, and we sense it too — and the unease only grows when the man insinuates he and this little girl have met before, even though she has no memory of him. If that wasn't weird enough, just wait: we meet up with the man, named Harper Curtis, later in the 1990s — and he hasn't aged at all. He looks the same as he did back in 1964.

Meanwhile, Kirby has teamed with rumpled reporter Dan Velazquez, played with just the right amount of weariness by Wagner Moura, to look into a recent attack that has similarities to what happened to Kirby. Sounds kind of cut and dry, right? A simple procedural show about a man and a woman teaming up to solve a mystery? But nothing is cut and dry in "Shining Girls," and the show continually knocks us for a loop. Because reality is always shifting around Kirby. She's single one minute, married the next. Items in her apartment change in the blink of an eye. What was true one minute is false the next. All of this goes a long way toward confusing both Moss and us, the audience, effectively putting us in Kirby's warped headspace. 

The ever-shifting world around Kirby results in some brilliant sleight-of-hand, full of scenes where the camera must carefully navigate around a room only to return to where it started and show us something completely different. There are also genuinely unnerving little touches, like a scene where a stalked character played by Phillipa Soo uncovers photographs of herself doing things she's mere seconds away from doing. But whether or not this all clicks for you, dear reader, depends on your level of patience. If you're the restless sort, you may find the deliberate obfuscations of the series to be damn-near maddening. But if you're willing to pace yourself, and let the mysteries of "Shining Girls" slowly envelope you, you might be rewarded with an addictive new series. 

"Shining Girls" premieres on Apple TV+ on April 29, 2022.