For six seasons now, American Horror Story has occupied a unique position in the landscape of small-screen horror, existing simultaneously as a bone-chilling nightmare factory and a garish, sometimes goofy inversion of the same. It’s taken viewers inside an infamous murder house, an inescapable asylum, a modern-day witch coven, a misunderstood freak show, and an uncommonly sinister, sanguinary hotel – all locales that served as characters almost as much as any of the A-list actors who received top billing – and spun violent, visceral tales of vice and vengeance out of each and every one.
Certain elements of the series, which takes an anthology approach to storytelling, have remained consistent across all or most seasons, no matter the setting or subject. Each season has a distinct theme, from adultery in season 1 to addiction in season 5, that drives the story. The inestimable Jessica Lange, who departed after Freak Show, once stood as a bastion of dramatic integrity amid all the clutter for the first four seasons. And then there’s the storytelling. Always campy and over-the-top, the show’s plots have always offered batty storylines awash in uniquely warped visual concoctions.
Last season, Hotel, is perhaps the most extreme example of the show surrendering to this aesthetic overdrive (to its detriment, as I noted), throwing narrative cohesion and character development by the wayside in order to pull out every stop in sight. Such ferocious, glitz-and-gore decadence has its upsides – many believe Lady Gaga’s Emmy win was undeserved, but for this critic’s money it was a pitch-perfect performance for the level of icily elegant eroticism Murphy (and co-creator Brad Falchuk) were striving toward. And yet, it along with American Horror Story as a whole have almost always ended up swamping viewers in excess. The show’s helmers are showmen obsessed with all things salacious and supernatural; their most prominent weakness has been pinpointed as an allergy to restraint. And sometimes for better, but often for worse, American Horror Story is their most spoiled child.
All of this brings us to season 6, which is most interesting not in terms of what it offers but – in a first for American Horror Story – what it withholds. It was generally understood from FX’s ultra-mysterious marketing campaign for the series (26 gorgeous, creepy teasers were filmed, inspired by a list of 500 movies – and only one of them bore relevance to the actual plot of the new season) that this was going to be an atypical outing for Murphy and company. But last night’s premiere episode, not sent out in advance to critics, put into perspective just how newfangled a season this new offering – which seems to officially be subtitled Roanoake – really is.
Shot in a strange, mockumentary format that falls somewhere between a talking-heads, true-crime documentary and The Blair Witch Project (more on that later), Roanoake immediately sets itself apart by simply appearing. There’s no theme song, precious little introduction, and scarcely a tease. All of a sudden, viewers find themselves thrust into a somewhat interesting but simultaneously minimal story about a young couple that moves to a creepy house in rural North Carolina, only to fall victim to some terrifying occurrences.
The whole thing is staged in a strange and somewhat discombobulating manner – with act breaks that carry a logo and the name “My Roanoake Nightmare,” the season feels like a reality show, with one set of actors talking to the camera to relay their story and another set filling in for those narrators during a dramatization of said story that would feel exactly like a normal season of AHS were it not for frequent returns to the initial documentary.
The plot centers on L.A. lovebirds Shelby (Lily Rabe in the doc, Sarah Paulson in the dramatization) and Matt (Andre Holland in the doc, Cuba Gooding Jr. in the dramatization), who flee that city after Matt is the victim of an unprovoked violent assault, heading to North Carolina to start over. Promptly irritating the yokels, a group of scary-looking hillbillies who live outside the law and most social standards, by buying an old farmhouse on land they want for unknown purposes, the couple starts out chipper and grows increasingly wary of their new abode.
Shelby in particular bears the brunt of the ensuing creepiness. During a hailstorm, she watches human teeth fall from the sky. While soaking in a hot tub, she’s suddenly accosted by strangers in colonial garb and nearly drowned before being released. Little stick dolls appear throughout the property for her to find, a Blair Witch-esque touch one can only imagine was included because Murphy, like the rest of us, had no idea a sequel to that film was been secretly filmed. And once Matt’s sister, pill-addled ex-cop Lee (Angela Bassett), comes to stay, she’s the victim of a terrifying home break-in by an anonymous mob carrying torches.
None of it makes much sense yet. The episode unspools at a quick pace and ends abruptly, with Shelby encountering what may be the lost colonists of this season’s subtitle, led by a menacing Kathy Bates, in the middle of the woods. But that format adds an overriding element of uncertainty and surprise that American Horror Story, though known for its wild twists and turns, hasn’t had since season 1. Some tropes native to the series do remain, though.
The rural farmhouse in which the couple find themselves is plenty terrifying, with long, creaky hallways, an exterior that appears to be rotting away, and a basement perfectly primed for shadow-soaked jump-scares. A mysterious pig man is glimpsed via video footage left in the house’s basement, and seems set to serve as this season’s most vicious apparition (also see: the Addiction Demon, the Infantata, and Twisty the Clown). And the characters, particularly Shelby and Matt, feel like the same kind of well-meaning but more than a little unlikable schnooks Murphy and Falchuk have delighted in tormenting throughout the series’ run.
As a whole, though, Roanoake‘s rollout and presentation paint it as a new chapter for American Horror Story. Perhaps that was to be expected. In a post-Lange age, experimentation was necessary to prevent the show from slipping into a brutal spiral of irrelevance and redundancy. Murphy and Falchuk are known for throwing everything but the kitchen sink at viewers, immersing audiences in each season’s setting before letting individual characters discover them in full. Part of the show’s innate dread and suspense came from getting a handle on the booby traps that were out there for blissfully unaware protagonists to wander into. This time around, Roanoake is changing tactics. Its talking-head characters speak with the fresh horror of hindsight, the knowledge that they didn’t see what was coming until it was far too late. Us viewers are suddenly more in the dark than the characters we’re watching.
Whether Murphy and Falchuk have a story interesting enough to warrant viewers continuing to stumble around unaware, picking up little glimmers of insight and information along the way, remains to be seen. The lost colony of Roanoake is a true American horror story, one laden with unanswered questions, and it could lend itself well to a tale of terror done the AHS way. But even if it winds up like many seasons before it, flying off the rails and into an overdone mess of kitsch and quirk, Roanoake wins some points for taking a sharp left-turn away from Hotel‘s visual gluttony.
That season felt like a Grand Guignol frightfest, overstuffed with as many unnerving bells and whistles as its hosts could afford. This one, on the other hand, has the potential to excel as something American Horror Story has never been: a simple scary story, an old campfire tale delivered in a modern manner but still loyal to the more clear-eyed, heart-in-mouth horror of the unknown.
American Horror Story S06E10 Srt Sub Subtitle Download
When The Blair Witch Project opened in the summer of 1999, filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez got their $60,000 indie noticed by bleeding fiction into fact. Playing on viewers’ morbid curiosity, they listed their unknown actors as “missing, presumed dead” on IMDb, handed out missing-persons flyers at film festivals, and featured fake police reports and staged interviews with investigators on the movie’s website. In keeping with that spirit of mischievous surprise, this year’s sequel, Blair Witch, wasn’t initially identified as such. A Comic-Con audience only discovered what they were watching when the lights went out.
With its documentary and found-footage formats, mid-Atlantic setting, Blair Witch–esque twig dolls, and, above all, its playfully coy advertising campaign (which declined to reveal the new season’s theme), the sixth iteration of American Horror Story (FX) attempted to launch something like the frenzied anticipation that surrounded that turn-of-the-millennium masterpiece. As with The Blair Witch Project, the marketing and the fan-fueled speculation proved as entertaining as the product itself — a guessing game as a prelude to the show.
Debuting last night, My Roanoke Nightmare (snaps for that deliciously cheesy subtitle) would feel like a pared-down rehash of Season 1’s Murder House if it weren’t for the questions raised by the faux-documentary structure. Minus the raining teeth, the haunting of Shelby and Matt — played by Lily Rabe and André Holland as the “real-life” couple this all happened to and Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr. as the “actors” reenacting the events — lacks the lavish production design and baroque grotesquerie that’s made American Horror Story so compulsively watchable despite its consistently aimless plotting and coarse characterizations. At least its winking camp has survived Ryan Murphy’s promises of greater darkness this year. Angela Bassett’s ex-cop, Lee, annoyedly calling her sister-in-law “one jumpy bitch” was the highlight of the hour.
American Horror Story could just as well be called “Women Over 40 Doing Awful Things” — one of its best reasons to exist. And so the mutual resentment between Shelby and Lee (played by Adina Porter as the talking-head version) is instantly more interesting than the marriage between the model couple. Since Matt looks like he’ll often be away doing vague work-related things, the developing relationship between the sisters-in-law holds much more promise, especially after Lee brings her technically kidnapped young daughter into the house, as promised by next week’s teaser. And though the likely theme of Season 6 — the Roanoke Colony, a group of about 115 English settlers that went missing in the 16th century — is a distant memory today, perhaps the series could make it feel relevant once more. The apparitions of the two women in mid-20th-century nursing garb suggests that Kathy Bates’s colonist isn’t the only poltergeist to contend with.
Most engaging, though, is whether American Horror Story can wring something new out of the tired mockumentary style. It feels too pat for Shelby, Lee, and Matt to all come out of their 18th-century farmhouse alive — surely there’s a twist lying in wait there. The show has also gleefully skipped across time to creepy and arch effect every season, so it’s possible that the doppelgängers are somehow significantly separated in years. Between the tensions among the trio and the potential resurrection of the documentary presentation, consider us teased and tempted back into the haunted house.
American Horror Story’s creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have refined professional trolling into the most elegant of arts.
In fact, I have a theory no truly great Horror Story episode can exist without some vague level of frustration. Or least some veil of perplexion. Maybe that’s why I exist in the alien minority that actually enjoyed Hotel; I can’t help but indulge Murphy and Falchuk’s every mischievous whim, and the strange thrill of a weekly rug pull and a slap in the face.
In a TV landscape which constructs narrative like the most intricate lattice, like the thinnest of tightropes – where every line, look, or breath must deliver two-fold payoff down the line – there’s something intoxicating about American Horror Story’s willful, gleeful absurdity.
What the new theme means for American Horror Story season 6
You can almost hear Murphy and Falchuk cackling away with every twist; oh, did your favourite character die abruptly mid-season? No worries, they’ll be back next week as Rudolph Valentino. By the way, Rudolph Valentino is a vampire now.
It’s that kind of unfazed attitude which so brazenly continues here; specifically, with season 6’s refusal to reveal the anthology series’ new theme until the first episode, choosing instead to unleash a flurry of deliberately misleading teasers ahead of time. A move that, again, managed to prove in both parts addictive and infuriating. The cackles in the background continued.
What was eventually unveiled proved unimaginably left-field; no one could exactly have foreseen the faux-documentary style, inspired by paranormal reality shows such Paranormal Witness, which structures the unveiled American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare. Gone went the usual straightforward narrative format; swapped for talking heads and a claim that it’s all been “inspired by true events”.
The episode opened on couple Shelby (Lily Rabe) and Matt (André Holland) recounting to camera their traumatic paranormal experience in a desolate North Caroline farmhouse, after attempting to escape the city’s terrors in the wake of a sudden tragedy. Their confessions are intermixed with dramatic reenactments of the pair’s toils – which sees the couple played onscreen by The People vs. O.J. Simpson’s Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr.
It’s clear from the season premiere that Murphy and Falchuk are responding in part to the criticisms – and dropping ratings – for Hotel; there’s a return here to the slow-burn, old school horror which characterised the earlier seasons, making this episode fairly notable in how little it actually reveals. Past slamming doors, Blair Witch homages, and a sinister pig man; there’s still a vast majority of the mystery to be slowly unfurled over the coming episodes.
Yet, expert trolls Murphy and Falchuk would never leave us with a simple return to Murder House’s taut, nightmarish tone – hence the dramatic (and charmingly ludicrous) format change. The American Horror Story of season 6 is both lovingly familiar and entirely alien; it manages to service its fans’ desires while slapping them in the face.
Episode 2’s preview suggests the documentary format is here to stay; I’m not entirely convinced the structure works, especially when the show’s nightmarish surrealism is exactly what marks it out on the TV landscape, making it strange to see it fractured by half-hearted attempts at realism. But, then again, its perpetual unpredictability makes it near impossible to guess where exactly the show is about to take us.
Like peering into the rabbit hole, the season premiere offers just enough intrigue, glee, and frustration to make it a prime addition to the American Horror Story family. Welcome back, you delightful televisual troll.
American Horror Story airs Wednesdays at 10PM in the US on FX, and airs on FOX UK the following Friday at 10PM.