American Horror Story begins its sixth season answering the question everyone has been wondering - the theme of the anthology horror series. Well, not quite ... but it does suggest it could be called American Horror Story: Confusion.
AHS6 opens with a documentary style series discussing "My Roanoke Nightmare" where we meet Shelby and Matt, a couple who explain their story with actors reprising them (Sarah Paulson is of the actors!). It immediately gives off an Unsolved Mysteries or Paranormal State ambiance and kicks off a slew of new questions about how this will be integrated into the long-running plot. After being attacked during a gang initiation, Shelby's husband was hospitalized and she lost their unborn child -- all through a random act of violence. They, then, moved to North Carolina, feeling pushed away from society because of their struggles, luckily finding a beautiful farmhouse-style home built in 1792. They felt like it was a true sign that they were meant to live on secluded land for an irresistible deal to change their lives. The couple was lucky enough to bid on the property for $40,000, which included 10 acres of forest for a home that will clearly be the root of many horrors.
Matt and Shelby began to return to normal, feeling connected and content with their new lives. One night, the two heard a loud noise of a creature that, at first, they wrote off as scare tactics, but, soon, things took an undeniably eerie turn as what was thought to be a hailstorm became a downpour of human teeth -- making Shelby petrified. However, no one else experienced it. (I seriously would have already called Uber after being pelted with one single tooth).
Matt prepped for a typical horror-timing business trip that meant Shelby would be alone at their obviously cursed home, which the "real person" in the documentary explains was probably needed for both to grow stronger. The first night, Shelby was walking down her hallway seeing two girls look back at her -- into a room where she found no one. The scene gives proficient nods to well-placed scares with built-up nerves to keep you on your toes. To prove she's (in)sane, Shelby enters her hot tub alone, but, after a spookily-lit backdrop creates suspense, she's pulled under by something inside with a title card reading "My Roanoke Nightmare" as a commercial placeholder.
Matt came home as fast as he could, and police informed the husband his wife claimed to have been attacked by men and women with pitchforks in colonial clothing. Despite being somewhat confused by her story, he still believed his wife and, later that evening, heard noises similar to the night a shrieking pig/creature alarmed them. He finds a dead pig on the property and buries it to hide the odd scene from his wife, which isn't the greatest idea when dealing with spooky unknowns. Next, his sister (named Lee) comes to stay with them, and the actress portraying the interviewee's reenactment is played by the great Angela Bassett. The former officer didn't have a great relationship with her sister-in-law and struggled with a pain pill addiction that led to her losing her position and beginning a divorce that she didn't want.
Lee admits she hadn't been to keen on her sister-in-law's story, but, one night, she heard noises that startled her and found an empty bottle that she thought Shelby left to tempt her (she struggles with sobriety). While they argues, Matt got an alert from his hotel that shows people with pitchforks making their way up the property via security cameras at the house. They don't have enough time to respond to his calls, as they heard a noise and Lee led the way down a basement to see who or what is there. By the time they reached the source, it was a television playing a home video of someone in the woods hiding from a figure wearing a pig head (not a friendly being for sure). Somehow, the pair was locked in, and they heard the thuds of several people upstairs -- they hid out for 20 minutes of unsettling fear.
As they finally made it back to the main house, they discovered dozens of figures made of twigs bundled around their staircase, much like the Blair Witch Project. Matt watched the video over and over, predictably believing them to be altered to scare the couple (like most men in the horror genre). Matt and Lee decided it was best to keep the house and not run away, even though Shelby was horrified of what could potentially happen. Shelby concluded that fleeing is her best bet, so the yoga instructor makes an escape in her car while Matt calls to beg for her to return. Yet another memorable jump scare kicks in when she accidentally hit a woman in the middle of the faintly foggy street. The "real" Shelby explains that the next moments were hazy and strange -- but she followed the woman into the woods. After a good distance, Shelby got lost and, once again, has a run-in with several stick figures bundled together, and, ultimately, a group of men and women with torches surround the screaming Shelby -- until next week puzzled AHS fans -- we'll do our best to decode for hints at a grander story with (possible) crossover material!
Overall Grade: 8/10
The episode provided plenty of delightful horror tropes and scares, but the confusion about a lack of known direction makes the promotion for AHS6 feel deceptive. I enjoy the faux-documentary depiction with AHS royalty Lily Rabe returning to the anthology series, but what will truly be important is how the new storytelling method is handled moving forward. For a precursor of AHS Season 6, the series brings the spooks as it should -- but time will be our indicator on the overall success of the zany TLC style horror story.
Aedan's Final Thoughts:
-Lilly Rabe and Sarah Paulson? AHS knows its strengths for enlisting these two!
-Although I'm still confused about the plot, the mystery element is something different to the previous AHS seasons, so I give credit to the creators for using new expressive ways to create horror.
-Patiently awaiting the new opening credits - one of my favorite things about AHS.
-I'm slightly pleased that American Horror Story is finally/loosely adapting my favorite mystery television series (Unsolved Mysteries), but how this fits in to the overarching plot is something I can't wait to learn.
-It's hard to fairly asses the series without knowing the entire cast or concept, but I think the quality will increase when more light is shed on the others as well.