There has been months and months of speculation, but now the first episode of American Horror Story is here. This should go without saying, but this review contains major spoilers for AHS Season 6 My Roanoke Nightmare, Episode 1.
Some time ago, the story broke that the new season of American Horror Story would be focused on Roanoke. This stemmed from an image from the set, which showed a tree with the word “croatoan” carved into it. Which of course led people to believe this season would be focused on the Roanoke missing colonial settlement.
And… those rumours were partly true. It is indeed set in Roanoke, but not that Roanoke. Instead, it’s set on Roanoke Island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. So, with that out of the way, let’s move onto the review.
This start off with an immediately different tone than previous seasons, with a documentary style flavour, complete with the familiar title card “this following story is inspired by true events”. Talking heads begin to recount the events that we will presumably see throughout the season, and begin to tell the tale of Shelby and Matt. The presentation is very much in the style of “real people talking about real events”, then followed by a “reenactment”.
In the present, Shelby is played by Lily Rabe, and Sarah Paulson in the past. Her husband Matt is played by Andre Holland in the present; Cuba Gooding Jr. in the past. So immediately we have a docu-drama style that will immediately feel familiar, but telling a story fit for the title of “American Horror Story”.
The story truly kicks off when Matt and Shelby go out to celebrate in LA, where Matt is violently attacked as part of some “gang initiation”, and Shelby herself is knocked over. Shelby ends up losing the child she is carrying, and Matt is sent to the hospital. Losing their taste for the city life, they go back to Matt’s hometown of North Carolina. Here is where their troubles truly begin.
The couple happen upon a house surrounded by forest, which they then decide to buy for a suspiciously low amount of money. Immediately, you can see where this going. A part of me did groan, thinking oh no not another haunted house story, but things are not quite that simple here. Immediately the couple begin to hear strange noises, including a drawn out pig squeal that sounds like it’s being murdered horribly.
Earlier on in the story, the couple outbid a pair of hillbillies for the house, so naturally their thoughts turn to them and they assume they’re being messed with. It’s clear that this isn’t the case, though, when Shelby begins to see unexplainable things like teeth raining from the sky. As you would expect of any AHS story, things only escalate from there.
Intercut by the “real people” talking about the events, Shelby begins to witness all the classics – mysterious figures in the houses, noises and more. But, just as we are getting comfortable in the tropes, it takes us by surprise. When Matt is away for his job, Shelby is almost drowned in the hot tub by a group of mysterious figures in “old costumes” holding torches and pitchforks.
This is when things really start to kick up a notch, as the police find no evidence of intruders – or the torches. Eventually, Matt himself begins to witness strange things, but still writes it off as the hillbillies messing them. As he says earlier on in the talking heads section, “this is the South”. Perhaps racism is going to be a theme? It is certainly possible, as Matt even draws attention to the couples’ status as an interracial couple.
It seems that the creators of AHS are keen to kick things off at a boil rather than a simmer, as things continue to escalate with the introduction of a new character – Matt’s sister, Lee. She is played by Adina Porter in the present and Angela Bassett in the past. It immediately becomes clear that this is not the case of “the wife imagining things”, as both characters are locked in the basement as intruders approach the house.
While in the basement, this episode really kicks up the references to other horror films up a notch as they watch a shaky cam video of a man like being recorded in the woods. When they finally make it upstairs, it seems the blair witch has paid a visit and decided to decorate the stairway with twig figures connected by some kind of rope.
When Matt returns, Shelby declares that she’s had enough and leaves, and here the show makes it painfully clear that the house is not the issue. Shelby does not make it far, and is immediately sidetracked and led into the woods by a mysterious woman. Losing track in the dark, Shelby stumbles around with nothing but a torch until she comes across an incomplete circle of torches.
Interestingly, her torch light “completes” the circle, which knowing this show, is probably some kind of symbolism for what they have in store for the future. She gets a closer look at the torch wielding figures, including one that has been scalped, and here the episode ends.
Overall thoughts are pretty strong. Things started out familiar with the house and the strange happenings, but quickly escalated beyond a normal “haunting” story. In the woods scene, even the very ground itself seems to be in on it, as it moves and waves like the ocean. The strange blair witch like dolls, and the circle symbolism, almost give this a “witchcraft” flavour, whereas the scalped man also leads back to the original rumors of croatoan.
While we finally know what season 6 of American Horror Story will be about, this episode has definitely raised a lot of questions and we don’t really know what’s going on just yet. This definitely seems like a faster burn than the last couple of seasons, and definitely an unusual style with the docu-drama feel. With this show, there’s not even a certainty that the docu-drama thing means these characters survive, so the mystery is yet to be unraveled…