My Roanoke Nightmare brings “Horror” to American Horror Story

American Horror Story is triumphantly back. After an amazing three seasons and a questionable fourth and fifth, the sixth installment of Ryan Murphy’s, American Horror Story is just as chilling as it is unsettling. The first three episodes are bad, but then even the most seasoned horror junkies, such as myself, are afraid.

If you didn’t pay attention in APUSH, the Lost Colony of Roanoke, found off the coast of North Carolina, gets its nickname from its strange lore. Some of the English settlers went on a supply trip to England, and when they returned, everyone from the colony had disappeared, and the only thing left was the word “croatoan” written on a tree.

In the context of My Roanoke Nightmare, couple Matt (Andre Holland) and Shelby Miller (Lily Rabe) give their testimony to a camera about their time living in a large house near the Lost Colony. They recount their experiences documentary-style, and actors (Shelby is Sarah Paulson, Matt is Cuba Gooding Jr.) give a “dramatic reenactment” of the story. The acting, as it always is, is superb, and the AHS usuals, such as Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters (who plays the first owner of the house, 1700s aristocrat Edward Mott), portray their complicated characters perfectly. Every season, American Horror Story creates the most complex characters in that you never know who is truly good or bad, and My Roanoke Nightmare does not fall short. Shelby and Matt, though they are the protagonists, are not a happy couple, and neither is Matt’s sister, former cop Lee Harris (Adina Porter).

My criticism of the first three episodes is its cheesiness. It’s cliché: a couple moves into a new house to start a “new life,” none of the neighbors want them there, and they hear little bumps in the night. Since Matt and Shelby are recounting what happened, we already know that they survive in the end. It takes away some suspense. The beloved American Horror Story theme song is also gone, and if you’re like me and you love repetition in literature, you’ll know that this is a sad, sad thing to do away with.

Yet, there’s something about this season that’s hauntingly familiar to season one, Murder House. In Murder House, all of the people who die in the house can never move on, so their ghosts eternally haunt the property. All of the Roanoke ghosts look like real people (which is how Murder House’s ghosts look), and never move on to some kind of afterlife. Ryan Murphy recently revealed that all of the seasons, though they have different storylines, are connected in some way, so could the trapped Roanoke ghosts be connected to the Harmon household?

The scare starts around episode 4, when Lee’s daughter goes missing, and the “Blood Moon” approaches. According to the previous owner of the house, the “Blood Moon” is the period of time in which the Roanoke ghosts can kill people, and they do so to keep their property. The leader of the ghosts, The Butcher (Kathy Bates) is a woman who ruthlessly murders all who trespass on her land, and made Roanoke into a human-sacrificing cult after they attempted to banish her to the woods. Bates’ portrayal of The Butcher is spot on: she’s cruel, she’s bloodthirsty, but most of all, she’s vulnerable. The most interesting part is when you meet The Butcher’s actress, Agnes Mary Winstead, a mentally unstable woman who takes the part she plays to heart. And she really takes it to heart…

What separates My Roanoke Nightmare apart from other AHS seasons isn’t just the filming style, but that it is true horror. Past seasons of AHS, such as Asylum or Coven, don’t necessarily focus on the terrifying aspect of the story, but rather the suspense. Past AHS seasons were never too “scary” as they were dark, but because My Roanoke Nightmare loses some of this initial suspense with the introduction of a documentary style production, it has to make up for it in other areas. Not only does it amp up the horror aspect, but the second half of the season changes focus, and adds the suspense element back in. After Shelby and Matt’s story concludes, a viewer-hungry producer named Sydney James (Cheyenne Jackson) seeks to create a second season, bringing back all of the actors, and the Millers to the house during the “Blood Moon.” This, as most horror stories go, is a bad idea (please, somebody watch this with me because I am sitting in my room biting my nails and losing sleep).

This season isn’t quite done yet, but I am sitting in cruel, suspenseful anticipation. American Horror Story is like clickbait. As bad as it might get, you will always watch and you will never look away.

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