Sunday, September 18, 2016

American Horror Story 6x01 Recap: “Chapter 1” (Breaking Its Own Mold With Used Tricks) [Contributor: Melanie]

"Chapter 1"
Original Airdate: September 14, 2016

American Horror Story season six opens in the strangest way you could possibly imagine, but at the same time, with the most cringe-worthy familiar trick in the horror book: a disclaimer that the following is based on true events.

... 'kay.

After six years we’ve finally gone there. After baiting everyone with the mysterious season theme for months, it’s finally revealed to be "American Horror Story Does a Haunting." The day of the premiere, I posted a couple theories on the Tumblr for my horror podcast and it turns out one of those was in fact correct: the missing Roanoke colony.

What is the Roanoke Colony, you ask? You didn’t ask but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t tell you anyway. Basically the story goes that this English settlement called Roanoke was mysteriously abandoned in 1590 with only the word “Croatoan” carved into a tree as a clue. The evacuation of this colony had not been an overnight one, and, based on settlement policy, there was no evidence their move had been forced. Most people believe they died of starvation, were killed off, moved to a new location, or assimilated in some way with the local native population. Either way, it’s a spooky story. And clearly, our version here is going to be a lot more nefarious than history suggests.

Now, as for that whole mockumentary thing... I like that they oh-so-casually shoved this premiere literally a day before the first public showings of Blair Witch began. Especially considering the fact that some of the aesthetic elements are similar. This isn’t found footage of course, and I have to applaud the creativity of double-casting roles for a fake documentary piece. I’d be happier if it wasn’t Ryan Murphy who did it, but needless to say, this season has my attention. I was getting very tired of the same formulaic drama of past seasons. So even if this ends up being a massive wash, at least it’ll be a breath of somewhat fresh air. Even if that air is playing at a couple of the most overused elements in horror to date.

So far, I’m willing to buy the cuts between the “dramatization” and the interviews with the “real” victims. But, at the same time, the show is going to need to mix that up before it gets boring real quick. This also runs a danger of some poor writing or poor directing ruining dramatic tension by inserting a little snippet of Lily Rabe talking about how scared she was when we can clearly see how terrified Sarah Paulsen is. Combining this showing and telling better have a creative reason in the end, otherwise the whole concept will just fall flat. Another issue I’m already seeing as well is that we know several of our main characters make it out alive (since they’re, ya know, being interviewed about it in present-time). Not that it’s a big deal, but if American Horror Story consistently does one thing over-the-top, it’s raise stakes. And this season’s stakes have been drastically lowered if all we’re getting is a documentary of a haunted house in the south.

As for the cast list, a full credits list revealed franchise veterans Evan Peters, Lady Gaga, Cheyenne Jackson, Denis O’Hare, and Finn Whitrock would all be appearing at later points in the season.

Doing this recap might get weirdly tricky, but we’ll see how it goes as the season progresses...

The documentary opens with a young couple, Shelby (Lily Rabe and Sarah Paulson) and Matt (Andre Holland and Cuba Gooding Jr.) recounting how they left their city life after becoming the victims of a gang-related crime. They travel to North Carolina where they find a spacious farmhouse, complete with several acres, going up for auction at a cheap price. They get the house, much to the chagrin of local rednecks, who warn them to leave. Matt believes the warnings are because he and Shelby are an interracial couple and brushes them off.

During their first few nights, they hear a strange squealing coming from outside and Matt investigates, only to find that their trash has been vandalized. Believing it to be the work of their local racist neighbors, he ignores it. The next day, Shelby is home as a storm sets in. When she walks outside she finds that what appeared to be hail is actually human teeth raining from the sky. Then Matt returns home that night and claims that where he had been, it was just hail, and believes Shelby to be suffering from stress-induced delusions.

Like all typical haunting stories, our husband has to leave for business and our damsel is forced to spend her nights alone in the haunted house. Things seem to be going fine for Shelby as she practices yoga (she will not stop reminding us that she does yoga) and makes herself dinner later that night over a glass of wine. She hears more strange noises but brushes them off as she goes out to use the hot tub in the backyard after dinner. While there, she’s attacked by an unseen assailant who attempts to drown her. She calls the police who claim they can find no evidence of an intruder. Matt, skeptical of her claims that the attacker was dressed in a colonial costume, believes her to have been assaulted by the same bigoted locals.

One night, Matt is awoken to the same squealing sound and goes outside to find a dead pig on their front step. He disposes of the pig and chooses not to tell Shelby, believing it to be a threat. He installs a security system and asks his sister Lee (Adina Porter and Angela Bassett), a former cop who lost her job and husband when she became addicted to pain medication, to come stay with Shelby while he’s away. The two do not get along, by the way. That night, while making dinner (and drinking more wine), Shelby is distracted by a knocking at the window. When she looks returns, she finds that her knife has been moved. Lee then asks Shelby not to drink in front of her out of respect for her sobriety.

That night, Lee is awoken by strange noises and sees an empty wine bottle roll into her bedroom. Believing it to be Shelby, Lee confronts her and the two argue. At the same time, the security system triggers an alert on Matt’s phone, showing a mob with torches entering the property. He attempts to call and warn Lee and Shelby, but they continue to fight and only stop when Lee hears noises. The two women follow the noise to the basement where an old TV is playing a home movie of a man hunting down a strange creature in the woods. The lights then go out, and the house is surrounded by the mob. When the sounds dissipate, the women find that cords and hanging dolls have lined the rooms of the house. (It’s not at all exactly like Blair Witch).

Matt arrives home, and while the cops believe the act to be vandalism, he argues it’s terrorism. Shelby wants to leave, despite Matt and Lee insisting that leaving isn’t feasible. Shelby, in a panic, gets in her car and drives off. In the dark, she hits a woman (Kathy Bates) who was standing in the middle of the road, dressed in old clothes. When Shelby goes to help the woman, she rises up and continues her walk into the forest, where she disappears. Shelby becomes lost in the woods and stumbles upon more cords and dolls. She runs, but trips and finds that the ground beneath her seems to be breathing. She scrambles to find her way back to the road, only to be surrounded by a group of people in colonial outfits (one of which is Wes Bentley) and a man, apparently scalped, screaming for help.

What did you think of the season premiere of American Horror Story and this new direction? Sound off in the comments below!


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