The premiere of American Horror Story 6: Chapter 1 does not waste any time in getting to work on the fearful, high-tension moments that will make your heart palpitate and your nerves jump. Ryan Murphy and Co. have done it; they have pulled me back in after two seasons of bore and gore.
First off, the premiere episode is very meta and I assume the rest of the season will carry out this way. It is a show within a show. The plot is a fictive documentary or docu-series called My Roanoke Nightmare, which reminds me too much of an episode of Paranormal Witness, but it gets better.
The historical context surrounding the show makes up for the Paranormal Witness vibe, although I appreciate its effort. According to History.com, 1590 was the year that over 100 colonists disappeared from the New World’s first settlement in Roanoke Colony Island, present-day North Carolina. The only clue to this mystery was the word “Croatoan” carved into the palisade built around the settlement. This hinted that the colonists moved to Croatoan Island, but the colonists were nowhere to found. A 1998 tree-ring data study by archaeologists discovered that there were extreme drought conditions during the time of the colonists’ disappearance, which may provide some reasoning for the fall of the “Lost Colony.” However, where the settlers ended up remains a mystery.
Episode 1 starts with (the real) Shelby (Lily Rabe) speaking to the camera in an interview fashion, introducing the audience to a past story we will soon see unfold. (The real) Matt (Andre Holland), Shelby’s husband, does the same, telling his side. I was then able to breathe again because my main girl Sarah Paulson is back, playing Shelby’s re-enactor, while Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Matt’s re-enactor. Parallel to the real Shelby’s narration, we watch fake Matt get attacked while walking outside with his wife. He ends up in the hospital, fake Shelby miscarries, and they decide to start fresh, move out of L.A. and into a Roanoke, North Carolina house, naturally in the middle of nowhere. The happy couple wins this house by outbidding an unwelcoming hillbilly group of white men. Shelby does not tell her husband, but the house immediately feels dangerous to her. Already uneasy, she starts experiencing The Shining-like “hallucinations” of adult twins, but the audience has to judge what’s real and fake. In the course of just one episode, we see a mysterious hand that nearly drowns Shelby, a knife miraculously disappears, and teeth fall from the sky.
Matt hooks up a surveillance system to see what is happening at home. And what he sees is terrifying. He checks his phone and finds a torch wielding mob of hillbillies walking towards the house. In the meantime, Lee has already accused Shelby of messing with her but hears a noise in the house. Checking the house out, the two go down into the basement. And I mean, when does anything good happen in a basement? A television suddenly turns on and plays a video of a man in the woods with a camera. He jolts the camera upward to what seems to be a person wearing a pig’s head. Creepy stuff! The audience still has yet to figure out the significance of the pig, especially since a dead one was found on Shelby’s and Matt’s doorstep. Now, Season One, Episode 6 titled “Piggy Piggy,” involved the urban legend that if you turn the lights off in the bathroom and say “here, piggy piggy pig” three times, the Piggy Man will appear in the mirror. A connection?
When Matt makes it home, he isn’t much help as usual. Shelby does exactly what I would do in a scary-movie situation: she hops in the car and gets the heck out of there. Looking down at her phone to see Matt is calling her, anticipated but still unexpected, someone appears in front of her car and Shelby hits the person, and that person is none other than Kathy Bates, a member of the AHS vets club. Into the woods Shelby goes, as does every Final Girl in most horror films and finds herself surrounded by the men with torches, but this time there’s a man with a SCALPED HEAD approaching her. End scene. That’s it.
As much as this sounds like a typical horror film, and though the narrative part is a bit cheesy, I have high hopes for the season. Though we don’t get as many canted camera angles that so-well matched the plot in Season 2: Asylum, the low angle shots with that dark and creepy score unique to AHS remind me of why I even started watching this show in the first place. And for that, I must applaud the writers. I can’t vouch for the rest of the season, but what I can say is that this episode will make you want to turn on all of the lights not only in your house, but in the American Horror house too!