After much speculation and hullaballoo, American Horror Story finally premieres and reveals the theme of this season. Focusing on the lost colony of Roanoke, this isn’t a complete shock to anyone who saw the leaked photos from set, but overall, they managed to keep this season’s storyline a secret.
Long story short, the Roanoke Island was founded by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585 and was the first English settlement in the new world. They didn’t fare well, so they returned to England and in 1587 another 100 colonists were sent to Roanoke under the command of John White. White returned to England to gather more supplies, but his return to the Roanoke Island took longer than anticipated and when he finally made it back, there was no one to be found. White’s daughter, Ellinor Dare, and his granddaughter, Virginia Dare who is the first English child born in America, were among the missing. The only thing the settlers left behind was the word CROATOAN carved into the palisade they had built. From here, many theories exist as to what happened to the missing colonists. Plain old exposure and lack of food could have done them in, they may have been absorbed by the Indian tribe known as the Croatoans, aliens might have abducted them, they could have been taken out by another group of people…we could go one forever here which means that Ryan Murphy and team have a whole host of potential possibilities for season 6.
The premiere episode opens up by informing us that what we are about to see is based on real events and this is always a great start. Nothing gets the horror blood pumping like knowing that you’re about to witness a true story. Playing out like an episode of I Survived, we meet Shelby and Matt, played by Lilly Rabe and Andre Holland in the present day narrative portion of our pseudo documentary and in the dramatic reenactment of their story, Shelby is played by Sarah Paulson and Matt is played by Cuba Gooding Jr. Got that? Just like all of those shows on Investigation Discovery that you know you watch when no one else is home, all of our characters are played by two actors: one actor is telling their story to us and the other actor is in the reenactment of the story. Initially, this put me off because it felt a little generic, but after settling in, this is a genius way to breathe fresh air into the series AND squeeze in all of the series regulars that we have come to love while also adding in some new faces. A lot of viewers were dismayed by the lack of a creepy intro and it wouldn’t be surprising if a few people thought they had tuned into the wrong channel. Again, this was off putting, but ultimately, a nice change of pace.
After a brutal assault, Matt and Shelby move out of LA and into a secluded 1792 country home. After winning the house, and it’s 10 acres of land that you cannot build on because it’s protected, in an auction, they piss off some local hillbillies who really wanted to buy the house. When Matt asks what’s wrong with the land, why is it so cheap, the hill people tell them it’s because of, “Hurricanes. You don’t want this house.” At this point, it looks as though these relatives of the Peacock family know exactly what is wrong with the land and it’s not hurricanes, but they can’t compete with Matt’s checkbook and they lose the auction. Unfortunately, Shelby is already feeling danger from this house, but she doesn’t want to take away from Matt’s happiness, so she keeps her feelings to herself.
The first indication of something being amiss is the sound of pig screams that occur in the middle of the night. Upon investigating the strange noise, Matt finds trash scattered all over and he immediately presumes that this is racially motivated vandalism. Shelby, however, receives warnings that are much more supernatural:such as an episode of human teeth raining down on the house, seeing two women in the hallway and being attacked in the hot tub. Of course, no one believes the yoga practicing, wine drinking woman and her complaints are written off as some sort of mental and emotional side effect of the miscarriage she suffered. After Matt finds a dead pig left on the doorstep, he asks his sister to come stay with Shelby while he’s on the road as a traveling salesman.
HELLO, Angela Bassett! A disgraced police officer who found herself addicted to opiates after being injured on the job, Lee is played by Basset in the reenactment and by Adina Porter of True Blood in the narration. Lee is a no nonsense, tough love type of woman and she definitely does not care for Shelby and she also doesn’t believe Shelby’s stories until she gets to experience strange occurrences for herself. Things quickly go from just eerie to full on freaky-ass scary when a group of torch wielding trespassers come to invade the house. Shelby and Lee are driven to the basement where the find a TV playing a grainy VHS tape that shows a glimpse of what appears to be a man with a swine’s head. What the what?! As the ladies hide in the basement while they hear people inside of the house, Matt sees this mini home invasion on his cell phone via the surveillance equipment he installed.
Ultimately, the intruders leave and now there is a complex art installation involving twine and some Blair Witch looking twig ornaments. Well, Shelby has had enough and she jumps into her car and bails. By herself, without saying goodbye to Matt or anything! In her panic, she drives into a cray-cray Kathy Bates who is just walking around with a meat cleaver in the forest, in the middle of the night. Apparently impervious to being hit by a car, Ms. Bates gets up and walks into the woods. Shelby follows her only to find herself surrounded by more of those creepy stick figures. While trying to run away, Shelby falls onto ground that appears to be breathing. The woods seem to be alive and moving and that’s when she comes face to face with a colony of people dressed like pilgrims who are spit roasting a man while another man is running around missing his scalp. Blink and you’ll miss Wes Bentley and Lady Gaga in this group of unknowns.
And this my friends, is what we call My Roanoke Nightmare. Two uppity L.A. types move to a country home only to find themselves in the middle of some kind of time warped horror story. Which brings me to… So many horror movie tropes were utilized in this episode that it verged on the edge of cloying. We had people shouting, “Who’s there?”, a woman home alone in a giant, secluded house, people investigating strange noises, women going into a creepy basement where the light doesn’t work and so on and so forth. When faced with unknown danger, Matt, Shelby and Lee seem to prefer choosing the dumbest reaction possible. Guess they don’t watch enough horror movies.
Directed by Bradley Buecker, this episode is gorgeous from beginning to end and utilizes some awesome camera angles to really drive home just how unsteady the house and it’s surroundings are. Pulling off some legitimately great jump scares and setting a creepy tone while keeping the visuals bright and foreboding all at once, this episode set the stage for what appears to be a stand out season. Coming in at only 10 episodes, but existing in two different timelines AND telling a story that has so many possible avenues to explore seems like a daunting task, so let’s hope they are able to keep the writing tight all season. The AHS series has had it’s ups and downs and for everyone who is still waiting for the magic of Murder House to be duplicated (me), there are people who believe Asylum or Coven was the gold standard. I think most of us can agree that Freakshow was an unfortunate detour, but Hotel, mostly, brought it all back where we prefer it. My Roanoke Nightmare looks like it might be the most ambitious so far and Murphy still maintains that all of the seasons are connected. So, let the fan theories begin! What did you think of this season premiere? Do you have high hopes or are you already feeling let down? Which season of AHS has been your favorite so far? Please, let me know on Twitter.
Crimson Harvest is the name of the movie playing at the Orpheum theater where Matt is attacked.
They really drive home the yoga, hippie-dipppie, gluten free, wine drinking sensibilities of Shelby’s character. Are they throwing shade or just being funny?
The two women in the hallway look more like refugees from Murder House and not from a lost 16th century village.
When Matt tells the cop that they need protection, the cop simply replies, “Get a gun.”
“I hate assholes.” might be the best quote of the episode and it’s courtesy of Lee. Of course.
We get our first glimpse of Denis O’Hare in that shaky video footage on the TV. Denis O’Hare is a national treasure and I’m always happy to see him.
Is the pig guy a callback to Murder House?
Matt was watching Fox News??
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