American Horror Story: Roanoke returns to the full on ghost story feel of Season 1, if admittedly a little slowly. Most of the seasons have featured ghosts or haunted locations, including the last season, but not focused exclusively on haunting by people. Based on a real-life former colony in North Carolina, the first episode opens with a new format to previous seasons: a fake documentary called ‘My Roanoke Nightmare’.
The episode opens with a testimonial and re-enactment featuring Shelby and Matt Miller. A couple speaking about a vicious assault that they suffered while out celebrating in L.A. The opening left me wondering what the season was about, there was practically no information revealed until the day of release last week. Even the season’s title was kept secret.
It soon transpires that the attack was serious, leaving Shelby without her unborn baby and Matt beaten to a pulp. The incident encourages the pair to move to a surprisingly cheap farmhouse away from city-life. This premise at first seems a little clichéd and pointed towards another ghost story but it was still clever that the title of the ‘documentary’ only appeared after the first ad break.
The new format, although again quite typical in this age of shaky camera horror, allows for more of the wonderfully extended American Horror Story cast to be used. The now Emmy winning Sarah Paulson plays Shelby for the re-enactment portion of the show while Lily Rabe is ‘real-life’ Shelby. New additions to the cast, Andre Holland and Cuba Gooding Jr, make a strong impression. Both are quite good at playing the ‘are you sure you know what you saw’ support. It’s the ladies however who really carry this episode.
When the couple first move into the house all is rosy, but not for long as they begin to hear noises. Matt leaves on a business trip, affording Shelby a little piece of quiet. Not long lived though as she is almost drowned by strange locals in traditional clothes. The pair suspect the family they out-bid to get the house. Matt is sceptical but installs cameras and his bad ass sister as babysitter (Angela Basset) for his next trip away. However by episode’s end it’s clear to all involved that there is nothing quite right about this property.
The format, which suggests the couple survive the events, bonded with the relatively slow movement of the episode may leave veteran thrill seekers disappointed. I on the other hand was sufficiently moved to wait awhile before going to the bathroom alone. I am squeamish by nature so even the obvious horror tropes didn’t stop me from being scared. The story moved just fast enough to keep the audience feeling safe. Therefore unprepared and I thought there was just enough jumps in there. They went for the hidden threat approach with no real view of who or what was attacking. Though like any horror its obvious when this stuff will happen; when the woman is alone in her hallway or in the tub.
This episode doesn’t quite live up to the scariness or at least the unsettling feeling of past season openers. There is a distinct lack of graphic violence or impending dread and consequences.
Yet this is the first episode so on this alone I am giving it a chance to get going. It would be too much to expect if the whole first episode was full of scares. The story that builds slowly is the story worth watching.
Did you catch the first episode of AHS: Roanoke? Let us know what you thought in the comments below!