This article contains spoilers for American Horror Story: Roanoke, Chapter 1
By Jay Hunter – In a world of 24/7 social media and behind the scenes photos, it’s very impressive that Ryan Murphy and co could keep the American Horror Story’s theme secret right up until it’s airtime. Personally I was hoping for an old-school Universal monsters narrative, but what we got could be even better, a focused clean plot.
I’ve always always rooted for AHS as a television series, an annual anthology show that would celebrate all aspects of horror, from historic folklore to contemporary film. However, each year I find myself disappointed. From the ridiculous jump the shark moments in season two’s, Asylum or the tirade of campy undertones in season five’s, Hotel. For me, AHS has never hit the heights it reached in it’s first season.
Which is why I found season one’s premiere such a pleasant surprise. The episode, simply entitled, Chapter 1 seems to show AHS going back to it’s roots, whilst still interjecting fresh adumbration. My Roanoke Nightmare follows a couple named Matt and Shelby, played by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Sarah Paulson respectively. Stylistically, the show is filmed much like a traditional haunting show, with the ‘real’ Matt and Shelby narrating (the most cinematic looking) dramatisations throughout. The couple recount their move from a tragic incident in Los Angeles. Upping sticks from the West Coast, they travel back east and purchase the most obviously haunted house in all of North Carolina, which dates back to 1704.
With nods to Evil Dead, The Conjuring and The Blair Witch Project, it’s certainly the most accessible season since AHS‘s 2011 inception. As the show follows traditional ghost-movie rules, the husband goes away on business, the cops show up after a weird occurrence but there’s no evidence to be found, human teeth rain from the sky and so on, American Horror Story season six consequently seems to be playing things very basic. However it’s a welcome change from the lofty ambitions the show has fallen short of in the past.
Whilst AHS has tendencies to contradict it’s own logic, the seasons gimmick may be it’s biggest hinderance. The fact that we are watching the ‘real’ characters being interviewed saps the show of any true tension. We know these main characters are alive and telling the tale, this saps the fear from us as an audience – as does the reenactment facet, which removes us from the immersion do an even greater degree. Fundamentally, we’re watching survivors who are no longer in any form of peril and ‘actors’ who are simulating being in peril.
Of course Ryan Murphy could write himself out of this hole at the drop of a hat, either focusing on the ‘real’ characters, after their interviews to show that the demonic forces are still after them, or doing flashbacks to perhaps 1704 to witness the malevolent inauguration of the property.
Whilst AHS‘s season 6 premiere is a refreshing back-to-basic episode it’s important to note that it is perhaps the most sporadic show in recent memory, after numerous strong starts and/or episodes, the show often goes completely off the rails, but so far I’m totally on board with My Roanoke Nightmare.