After three years of campy drama, American Horror Story has finally brought back the horror with it's sixth installment subtitled Roanoke Wednesday night on FX.
Departing from the usual linear format, Roanoke plays with the ideas in paranormal documentaries like Paranormal Witness and A Haunting. It tells the story of Shelby and Matt Miller, an interracial married couple who moves from L.A. to a remote farmhouse on Roanoke Island, North Carolina looking to start over after Matt is savagely attacked by a gang and Shelby suffers a miscarriage.
Dramatization verses Real Life
When we are first introduced to Matt and Shelby they are being featured on a "show within a show" called My Roanoke Nightmare talking about surviving their ghostly experiences. The real yoga teacher Shelby is played by Lilly Rabe and the real salesman Matt by Andre Holland. The show then switches back and forth from interview to dramatization with Sara Paulson playing an actress portraying Shelby and Cuba Gooding Jr. playing an actor portraying Matt. The same goes for Matt's sister Lee when she is introduced with Adina Porter playing her in real-life and Angela Bassett in the dramatization.
Here's a look at real Shelby (Lilly Rabe) on the left during her interview and the dramatization of Shelby (Sara Paulson) on the right if you're still confused.
The Beginning of the Haunt
One amazing thing The American Horror Story writers did this season was master the "slow burn", which is something the show has been lacking the past two seasons. When Matt and Shelby move to Roanoke they come across a creepy run-down farmhouse that they instantly fall in love with, and out-bid a trio of hillbilly locals for with all their life-savings.
The farmhouse is one of the best sets that the show creators have came up with. It surpass the glamour of last season's Hotel Cortez and brings us home to a southern version of season one's L.A. murder house. It's eerie, there's too much empty space that creates endless shadows and dark corners. It's not a set that needs to be filled with gratuitous gory scares because it creates horror all on it's own subtly and effectively.
When Shelby narrates that she knew there was an evil in the house, but desired to buy it anyway, we already have an idea of how this frail couple operates. They are stereotypes of the common couple who gets sucked into buying the romanticized haunted house. Shelby is not a strong woman by any means. She is passive and a total bore, but a refreshment for the show because it's good to see someone normal among the extreme.
Matt doesn't seem to really believe what his wife is telling him. First it starts with eerie pig-like sequels coming from outside when they are having sex, then leads to an actual dead pig showing up on their doorstep the next morning. During Matt's first of many 200 mile commutes to work Shelby walks outside to find teeth fall from the sky. Yes, a storm of human molars but Matt doesn't believe her.
The second time Matt leaves on business Shelby decides to go out in the wooden hot-tub at night when something or someone tries to drown her. She tells the police she saw people in colonial clothes with torches pushing her underwater, and it's not surprising at this point that Matt finds it hard to believe.
Creepy Cassettes Tapes and Crazy Colonials
When in doubt Matt calls his sister Lee, an ex-cop with an addictive personality who was fired from the job when her partner finds pills in her squad car. We also learn that her husband leaves her and gains custody of their daughter.
Mixing Lee's strong personality with Shelby's quiet demeanor creates in an interesting triangle between the three main players. During another one of his business trips, Matt sees what he calls a "mob" of people approaching the house on the video camera feed he has on his phone. His frantic calls to his wife go unnoticed though because she is arguing with Lee over a wine bottle that rolls into Lee's room.
The climatic scene of the episode happens when Lee realizes the danger, hears a man crying in the basement and drags Shelby down into the basement to investigate. They come across an old television with a sketchy homemade tape of a man (Dennis O'Hare) filming a man with a pig head (what we are now calling Piggyman) before falling over. It's easily one of the scariest scenes Horror Story has came up with, Piggyman may in fact be our scariest main villain yet.
At least that's what I thought until Shelby storms out of the house after seeing some creepy Blair Witch stick figures hanging around the staircase, gets in the car, drives off in the middle of the night and hits a colonial woman.
Cause it just wouldn't be American Horror Story without a cleaver-wielding Kathy Bates.
We don't know much about her character yet, just that she is most likely a ghost from colonial times (cause it's all about the lost Roanoke Colony if you don't know your history). Shelby chases Bates into the woods and gets lost, the woods are clearly an entity of their own in this story. When she trips and falls she could hear the ground breathing and see it moving.
By now we know that there are four groups the Millers have to deal with: the locals, the colonials, the living woods and Piggyman. Who sides with who? It looks like figuring that out will be the fun of this season.
The episode ends on a high note. With virtually no blood and guts throughout the entire episode, we finally come to a satisfying ending with Shelby running into the colonials. Introducing Wes Bentley as colonial number two and a mystery scalped man begging for help.
As someone who has seen the previous five seasons and has been underwhelmed by the last two, season six does not disappoint by a long shot. Episode one was simple, well-written, good, old-fashioned scary and this is the first time in a while the I am looking forward to seeing what comes next.
American Horror Story: Roanoke airs at 10:00 p.m. on FX Wednesdays.