The promotional campaigns for American Horror Story always bring a certain level of suspense to the viewers. Fans watch the twisted images carefully, attempting to guess the focus of the upcoming season. Closer to the premiere, the teasers will give way to a revelation. This was not the case for American Horror Story’s sixth installment. The theme was kept undercover until the release of “Chapter 1” when we are introduced to a faux true crime type docu-series called My Roanoke Nightmare. Now, you’re going to need to hold on tight for this journey because the ride is a little bumpy and the route convoluted.
My Roanoke Nightmare
American Horror Story: Roanoke opens with Shelby Miller (Lily Rabe) looking straight ahead and speaking directly into the camera. She and her husband, Matt Miller (André Holland), take turns giving testimonials about the strange occurrences they have experienced.
Sticking stylistically to the docu-series genre, the scene cuts to dramatic reenactments of the events they are speaking about. Their story comes to life with Sarah Paulson portraying Shelby Miller and Cuba Gooding Jr. portraying Matt Miller. As a writer who strives for clarity in my pieces, this Inception level layering is torturous. Though not easy to write about, the production of this “show-within-a-show” is handled in a flawlessly.
The Miller’s story begins in Los Angeles. While on a date with his wife, an unsuspecting Matt is assaulted in a “knock-out” gang initiation. Matt is immediately admitted into the hospital and the stress of the incident, or the push that she suffered, caused Shelby to miscarry the baby they had just learned she was carrying. Following Matt’s release from the hospital, still reeling from the tragedies they suffered, the couple decides to move back to Matt’s hometown of Roanoke Island, North Carolina.
After stumbling upon, and falling in love with, a gorgeous old farmhouse in the woods, Shelby and Matt are elated that they have the opportunity to bid on it in a bank auction. There is tension when they outbid a group of local men, who Matt refers to as “rednecks.” Matt wonders if their anger is not only due to the Miller’s winning bid, but from Shelby and Matt’s interracial coupling as well. In just the first episode there are numerous references to race, so it seems there will be a southern racism, past and present, angle explored.
A Hauntingly Familiar Horror Story
The house itself is beautiful, grand and well kept. Its spiraling staircases, magnificent windows and toile wallpaper add a stately appeal. As with most things that possess a great beauty, there is something hauntingly unfamiliar about the house. Being that this is American Horror Story a ghost tale in the similar vein of The Amityville Horror, The Haunting in Connecticut or Insidious, is not out of the question, but unlikely.
Due to the sheer availability of time to develop several complex plot lines when producing a television series rather than a movie, Ryan Murphy and company can pull us deep into the thickness of Roanoke Island. They would do well to avoid horror movie clichés, which are easy to stumble upon when exploring a commonly visited theme in the genre. With inhumane howling and a storm of human teeth already filing the country air, it seems as though things in Roanoke stand to only get stranger and more extraordinary.
Admittedly, I am a horror story junkie. I am all in for disturbing, shocking, and gory thrills, typically the more psychologically unsettling the better. I have been a fan of American Horror Story since Murder House with my favorite of the installment being the love-it-or-hate it “Asylum.” I actually stopped watching “Hotel” after the third episode, as even Matt Bomer and Cheyenne Jackson could not make it palatable for me. I wondered if Jessica Lange’s absence would harken the end the American Horror Storry as we knew it. It is clear with the clever and engaging “Roanoke” this is not the case.
American Horror Story: Roanoke airs Wednesdays at 10pm on FX.