Friday, November 18, 2016

Backwoods Ghosts and Instagram Likes, or Thoughts on American Horror Story Season 6: Roanoke

American Horror Story's signature ultra-violence, pansexual ghost diddling and histrionic acting (preferably while covered in blood) returns in Season 6 with a reality show/non-fiction format concerning the Lost Colony of Roanoke, the unlucky couple who move into the haunted house where said colony dwells, and the production company and actors filming the recreation.  Almost as if the like the two newlyweds on the haunted house tour at the start of Asylum, was expanded into a 10 episode series, Season 6 almost immediately descends into a meta-referential echo chamber, a hall of mirrors that touches on every modern horror movie in addition to every other season of American Horror Story and also a dash of American Crime Story.
It’s raining teeth in the first half of the season, with two sets of actors playing the same roles in an Inception (2010) level flashback film within a film.  The documentary format is problematic; interviews and reenactments are tricky because they imply survival, which removes immediate threat from the narrative.  The ghost story is wrapped in a reality show, with cell phone videos, found footage, police body cams and black and white security cameras peppering the narrative in a modern and an inherently frustrating format.
Sarah Paulson has become one of the pillars of the show, acting with an initial frailty that always reveals a hidden strength under extreme pressure/murder.  Lady Gaga returns in an important but relatively minor role as a forest witch goddess and it turns out, the First Supreme.  Kathy Bates you should know by now is happiest doing her obscure weirdo regional accents.  All the regulars return playing new characters or variations of previous ones, including Evan Peters as Edward Phillip Mott, an ancestor of Dandy Mott from Freak Show .  Evan Peters also portrays Rory Monahan, the actor playing Edward Phillip Mott, you see what I mean about that hall or mirrors.
Instead of taking a cast of players including Lily Rabe, Angela Basset, and Denis O’Hare and giving them new characters and storylines each season, in Season 6: Roanoke the actors are re-shuffled mid-season, in a twist that the audience will either find ironic and clever or desperate and heavy-handed.  The second half of the season which starts in Episode 6, amps up the tension by adding a Big Brother/Found Footage element to the show, manufacturing a sense of immediacy and reality.  Additionally there’s a new shock and awe or kitchen sink style of horror, adding more cleavers, a new set of the same ghosts, immolations, and cannibalism to the mix.
YouTube videos and Instagram references blend seamlessly with interviews from Lana Banana, the Asylum true crime writer Lana Winters.  Jessica Lange is not missed but there’s plenty of room for her in the expansive script while relative newcomer Adina Porter (Sally Freeman in Murder House) ascends to center stage as Lee Harris, the one-eared alcoholic, ex-cop, single mother of My Roanoke Nightmare.  She’s an unsympathetic character, and in fact I can't think of a single likable character in this entire season.  That may be the fault of the narrative style.
Incidentally, the final scenes of the last episode drop the found footage pretense and returns to traditional storytelling, but it’s so subtle that the audience doesn't notice.  All of these pseudo-reality ghost hunter shows earnestly attempt to prove that ghosts are real, and Season 6 exploits that primordial desire in an attempt to maintain relevance and bring in new viewers.  But the season suffers from the same frustrating, inherent problem with The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Paranormal Activity (2007, oh boy do I hate Micah), this isn't how amateurs would react in these situations.  All of us would put down the camera, help the person you’re filming, fight or run.  It’s filmed as “reality” but this is not how people would actually react, but for the purposes of narrative and storytelling the camera is always on, filming, a silent observer.
One of the greatest strengths and weaknesses of a serial TV show is the formula, the comforting routine that the viewers come to expect and in many cases love.  The reboots keep the series fresh and prevents stagnation and the risk of becoming a repetitive misery-fest like, say, The Walking Dead.  Season 6 shakes off audience complacency with the new reality show format but where’s the theme song and artfully disturbing opening credits?  That’s one of my favorite parts of the show.  This was my least favorite season, though I said that about the aliens in Season 2, so maybe it will grow on me over time.

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).