The sixth season of American Horror Story‘s anthology, Roanoke, comes to us in the format of a paranormal documentary show, following a married couple’s encounters with the paranormal. Reenactments, played by other actors, is where much of the on screen action takes place, with the ‘real’ characters appearing in testimonials.
With Chapter One, the series gets off to a slow and somewhat clunky start. The show within a show, aptly called My Roanoke Nightmare, is just as excruciating to watch on American Horror Story as it is in the plethora of similarly terribly reenacted History Channel shows. What’s more, there’s very little suspense or frights added from this format; it doesn’t seem more realistic, despite how intent the narrative is on reminding us of this.
Characters Shelby (Lily Rabe) and Matt (André Holland) give testimonials about their ‘nightmare,’ with fictionalized cutscenes featuring actors playing actors…Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr. star in My Roanoke Nightmare as the actors who portray Shelby and Matt respectively.
Shelby suffers a miscarriage and Matt becomes injured, prompting them to relocate to North Carolina. They find themselves a colonial property at a bargain price, outbidding hostile locals who want the property for unknown reasons. Once the couple moves in, things begin to take a predictable turn for the worse.
Matt is a traveling salesman, and his sister Lee (Adina Porter in testimonials, Angela Bassett in reenactments) moves in to the house to keep Shelby company. The two are always at odds; Lee is a former cop and recovering addict who doesn’t hide her distaste for the hippy, zen, wine-loving Shelby whose ‘job’ is doing yoga. (Sidenote: Shelby, until yoga is making you money, you are unemployed.)
While away from the house, Matt’s mobile phone notifies him that the house’s security system is going off. He watches the horror unfold via a phone app, and rushes home, knowing that the local police will be less than helpful. (The entire town seems rather unwelcoming.) Back at the house, Shelby and Lee find themselves pushed into the basement, where a disturbing video is playing on an old VCR. On it, a man is hunting a creature with a pig head and human body. The power then goes out, and the town mob invades the house, erecting some crazy witchlike totems and dolls up in the foyer.
Matt returns home and is shown the video but has his doubts about its authenticity. Instead, he chooses to believe that it’s just the hostile locals, determined to scare them off the property to ‘snatch’ it up at an even more reduced price. Considering the fictional show is called My Roanoke Nightmare, it’s likely he’s just an idiot. Shelby even appears to think so, and makes the rational decision to flee.
She speeds off in her car, before deciding to take a call from Matt. American Horror Story is reaching Glee levels with its ‘Don’t Talk On Your Phone And Drive’ message, because Shelby obviously gets into an accident. She collides into a woman that appears to have supernatural strength, managing to get up and hobble off into the woods.
Once the voice of reason, Shelby stupidly follows her into the woods, pleading that the woman needs to go to the hospital. Really? After the entire town seems to want your family dead, you still care about a the well-being of a woman that is completely unfazed after getting hit by a car? I’d consider that another warning sign to get the hell out of town.
In the middle of the woods, Shelby is greeted by a torch-wielding mob as a scalped man falls to her feet, his full brain on display, and the episode ends. Yikes.
American Horror Story: Roanoke doesn’t manage to leave a lasting impression with its first episode. Despite having a loyal fanbase, first impressions do matter. (As a note, I loyally watched the show on its released date for the first five seasons, but failed to find any interest in continuing Roanoke. It was not until hype for Season 7, Cult, began that I figured I’d watch the rest of Season Six for good measure.) There’s little thrills or chills in the first episode, and if the rest of the season follows the ridiculous My Roanoke Nightmare format, the series will continue to decline.
When it comes to the visuals, American Horror Story paints with the brooding style fans have come to expect. Production value is high, even if there’s little (yet) that’s truly frightening. The casting is very well done — the reenactments are authentic to their genre, with Paulson and Gooding Jr. looking scarily like Rabe and Holland, but with enough differences to distinguish themselves.
Thankfully, reenactments are done tastefully rather than for shock value, and the show’s creator, Ryan Murphy, is able to wring as much suspense as possible, even if there’s little going on so far. The voice over testimonials and narratives are where the show begins to dip in its usually unmatched quality, with the action unfolding onscreen feeling as though the ‘real’ people describing it are a bit superfluous. Unless you love these types of shows, it’ll likely be a turn off.
Check back to POParazzi in the weeks leading up to American Horror Story: Cult for more recaps from Roanoke.