Posts Tagged ‘American Horror Story: Cult’

I finally watched the final episode of American Horror Story’s seventh season (one day I’ll be able to give a review right after the season premiere or finale on my own cable package), and I have to say, this has definitely been an interesting season. When people heard that the new season was going to be about the 2016 American Presidential Election, after months of speculation that it would be about either a cruise or something else ocean-related, we weren’t sure what to expect. Would it be preachy and lean towards one end of the political spectrum or the other? Would Trump, Clinton, or some other political figure be featured as a character? And would Sarah Paulson play Trump (if she did, she’d be great at it, no doubt)? And as further details came out, namely that it would be about a cult that arose in the wake of the election and focused on people who felt isolated and galvanized by the election, we got intrigued. Could this actually work as a season arc? Could this be good?

Well, before I get into that, let’s go a bit deeper into the plot. Returning to a normal mode of storytelling after the reality TV show format of Roanoke¬†and being perhaps the most down-to-Earth season in the show’s history, Cult follows two very different people who become intertwined in ways neither would believe. The first is Allie Mayfair-Richards, a business owner and mother with liberal leanings and crippling anxiety who isn’t dealing well in the post-election climate. The other is Kai Anderson, a charismatic young man who begins to gather a group of devoted followers around him as he pursues power in local politics. As their lives start to intersect, they’ll not only make permanent impressions in each other’s lives, they’ll make impressions in the very surface of American politics.

I loved this season. Yes, the first two episodes were kind of slow and clunky, more devoted to commentary than to actually scaring the viewer, but after that the story and scares really picked up. The writers kept things very intimate, so that while this may have seemed like a big story about national politics and American political culture on the surface, it felt incredibly intimate, letting us into the lives and minds of these people. As per usual with American Horror Story, the story was twisty as heck, keeping you guessing where the story would go from one episode to the next and being unable to figure out most of the time where things would go. And after the second episode, they managed to keep the political commentary from getting too over the top. In fact, I think they managed to capture the spirit of American politics very well in this season: confused, divisive, changing from day to day and week to week. Things come up and down, change and merge and break, and become so muddled that you don’t know how it all started. All this was captured very well in this season.

And oh my God, that ending! That’s going to stay in my head for a while.

Beware this guy. He is a villain par excellence.

I also really enjoyed the characters. Obviously, the two main ones are exaggerated distillations of the stereotypes of the liberal and conservative voters, with Kai representing some of the darker views of what Donald Trump is to some Americans, but they also feel like real people whom you want to watch and see where they want to go from episode to episode. Each major character is given time to develop so that they feel real to the viewer, and you feel their struggles and/or death. I especially love Beverly Hope, played by Adina Porter (who played my favorite character last season), whose struggles within her workplace, followed by her struggles within a cult that changes drastically from the time she joins to the time she escapes. Kai is also just terrifying to watch. You know what his final goal is, but you never know what to expect from him from moment to moment. He’s like a pinball, causing something every time he touches something. He makes for a great villain. And watching Allie go from this weak, paranoid woman to this strong, somewhat devious fighter was just stunning.

Now, were there any parts I didn’t care for? Well, as I said, the first two episodes didn’t jibe with me, they were more devoted to commentary and set up than actual scares. Those could have been done better. Another issue I had was that I felt the final episode was kind of predictable. I mean, once I saw where it started, I kind of knew where it was going to go (except for maybe that last scene). I expect better from American Horror Story.

I also didn’t care for Lena Dunham playing Valerie Solanas in the seventh episode. Now, I have nothing against Lena Dunham. I think she’s a great crusader for a number of important issues, and I admire her for the success she’s had in the entertainment business. But sadly, I’ve only seen her in a couple of roles, not enough to get a gauge on whether or not I like her as an actress. And in the seventh episode, she just felt miscast. The episode was written brilliantly, the character she played was interesting, but she just didn’t fit well into the role, to the point that she was annoying (I don’t mean that in a sexist way, I just mean she didn’t fit the role and it had a negative impact. Don’t go after me in the comments).

And finally, I felt like the clown costumes could’ve used an explanation. Yes, the character Meadow designed the costumes, but why clowns? Why not a minority abused by the right, or ninjas, or just people dressed in dark clothing? It’s hinted that it has something to do with Twisty the Clown, who makes a surprise guest appearance in the first episode, but we never find out why the cult decides to commit crimes in custom-made clownsuits. I would’ve loved an explanation on that, especially since clowns figured so much in the advertising for the season (speaking of which, where are the bees? They show up a lot in the ads and the opening theme, but barely in the show proper).

This needed more of an explanation.

But other than that, American Horror Story: Cult was a great entry into the series. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give this season a 4.2, as well as the designation of my second favorite season so far (Hotel‘s still the best). It’s engaging, thrilling, and different from any other season so far. Plus it does a better job of talking about oppression and women’s empowerment than Coven ever did, so good on the writers for fixing that mistake. Check it out, and see it for yourself.

Now as for Season 8, details are scarce beyond that it will come out sometime next year, and that Sarah Paulson will return for her eighth consecutive season (yay!). I’m still hoping that I’ll eventually get an Orphanage or Academy/School-themed season. I’m curious as to how, if the theory about each season being a circle of Hell is true, how those themes might apply to those circles that are left. And I’m wondering who will be coming and going for the next season (Lady Gaga! Kathy Bates! Please come back!).

Well, that’s American Horror Story for you. It leaves you wondering up until the moment something happen, and then it blows us all away.

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I know, I usually try to get these reviews out a day after the movie or show premieres, especially with American Horror Story, because I have to stream it the next day (I don’t need another bill). Unfortunately, the past couple of days I’ve been busy with personal stuff and I didn’t really have time to deal with watching and writing reviews. The only thing I’ve seen for it was a review on Twitter by someone I follow, stating that the season opening was intriguing, but not outright scary.

Well, I finally had some time to watch and review the episode, so let’s get into it. American Horror Story: Cult begins with news footage from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns, starting from when the Donald started running and ending with his election as President. From there, the story follows two very different characters: Allie (played by Sarah Paulson), a woman with an anxiety disorder whose phobias, including clowns and even objects full of holes, come back in full force after Trump’s election. The other is Kai (played by Evan Peters), a purple-haired Trump supporter who has some bizarre beliefs, including that Trump’s election is the beginning of a revolution. From the look of things, their lives are going to be intertwined in strange ways.

As the Twitter reviewer said, Cult‘s first episode is less scary than intriguing. There’s a lot of focus on how the election affects everyone. Allie, being married to and having a child with another woman, is understandably scared that her family will be torn apart under the new administration, and that activates her other phobias, to the point that it’s affecting her marriage and her son negatively. Kai, on the opposite end of the spectrum, feels empowered to speak his views loud and proud, even if not everyone is interested in hearing them. The characters are exaggerated ¬†amalgamations of reactions from both sides of the aisle, but they do get to a lot of what many Americans felt post-election.

Speaking of which, there’s an interesting scene during the first half of the episode where Allie walks into a store, and starts up a conversation with someone, only to find out they’re a Trump supporter, even though at first glance, they didn’t seem like the stereotypical Trump supporter. I had an experience like that at a drug store during the primaries, where I made a comment about the Trump campaign, and a store clerk said he might vote for Trump. And like Allie, I felt a little perturbed afterwards, because I didn’t really care for some of Trump’s policies, and I thought someone working a minimum wage job wouldn’t either. But then you got to remind yourself that the Trump campaign drew people from a number of walks of life, which lead to his election. This scene portrays that well, to the point where I felt a little deja vu.

But as for scares, it’s pretty lacking. The design of the clowns is very freaky (especially when you’re not sure if they’re real or hallucinations), and Kai is freaky all on his own, but it’s not going to scare anyone used to horror scenery. If it were more like the opening of the fifth season, where every ten minutes there was a bloody, out-of-left-field scare or death. Here, it’s just not that impactful, they’re more concerned with setting up the story. And while that has worked in other seasons and in the first episode of The Defenders, here it just doesn’t work. After all, this is American Horror Story, and the setup needs to be balanced with that horror we were promised.

It makes me hope that in the next ten episodes it’ll really ramp up on the scares and make for a fun season. And it makes me hopeful that Colton Haynes’s character gets a lot of screentime (I love him whenever I see him in anything).

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the first episode of AHS: Cult a 3.2 out 5. Good setup with believable characters and excellent tapping into America’s fractured post-election psyche, but definitely a lot more horror is needed.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Join me Saturday at some point when I review another scary thing with clowns, IT. Prepare to float!

Since we’re still over a month out until the new adaptation of It and the new season of American Horror Story (which apparently will be featuring clowns in its Cult-themed season this year) hit screens, I thought I’d take the time to watch and review a movie I’ve been wanting to see for a while: Eli Roth’s Clown.

This movie actually has something of an interesting history: back in 2010, director Jon Watts and writer Christopher D. Ford uploaded a trailer to YouTube saying that Eli Roth was producing the film, even though he wasn’t involved with the film (I assume this was meant as a joke). Roth was impressed by the concept of the film and their ballsiness, so he offered to help them produce an actual film. However, when this film came out, it did poorly at the box office. Since then, I’ve heard both good things and bad things, making me curious as to its true worth. And when it popped up on my Netflix feed, I knew I had to watch it and see for myself what this film was made of.

Clown follows the McCoy family, real estate agent Kent, wife Meg and son Jack. When the party clown they ordered for Jack’s birthday is double-booked and can’t make it, Kent finds an old clown costume in one of his vacant houses and dresses up as a clown himself. However, he finds himself unable to take off the costume afterwards. In fact, it’s starting to become attached to him, literally. As Kent’s body and mind starts to go through unimaginable changes, Meg must find a way to save her husband from becoming a legendary demon with a hunger for children.

This film was awesome in so many ways.

First off, the costume and Kent’s evolution into the demon. The make-up and costume here is phenomenal, slowly showing Kent turning into this terrifying monster that puts Twisty and Bill Skarsgaard’s version of Pennywise to shame in how scary his look is. The transformation is gradual, but with every change, you see not just how creepy the clown demon is, but also the battle for Kent’s mind playing in his head. From an extra line, a darker color, a colored contact lens, everything in this costume is used to maximum effect.

I also liked how the story at first seems formulaic, but actually takes some routes that keep you guessing about what will happen next and actually surprising you at times. The story also takes some risks in terms of body horror and at some of the stuff that it’s willing to show us, which is a welcome change. It actually makes for a much more terrifying experience. It’s almost like the filmmakers were saying, “We know it’s a movie, but we know real life isn’t nice. Therefore, we’re going to introduce a terrifying concept into the real world and see that concept play out with real world results.”

One interesting thing I noticed was the characters, and how they were written. They’re not that deep or well rounded-out, but the story and the direction allows the characters to feel real. Rather than using dialogue and exposition to explain character traits or relationships between characters, the actors show the audience those aspects. Just from Meg’s interactions with her father and the things he does, you get the sort of feelings he has for his son-in-law. From seeing Herbert Karlsson’s actions during the film, you get an interesting twist on the expert-on-a-monster trope in horror films that doesn’t need to be told to the audience. It’s just there for us to absorb! It’s a brilliant decision to approach characterization like this on the part of the filmmakers, and I kind of wish we’d see that in more horror films.

Not even the scariest image.

The only problems I really had with this film is that it may have dragged at points, and that there’s this one short scene involving Meg and a patient from her dental clinic that I just found slightly contrived. Actually, very contrived, even if it did show how Kent’s transformation is kind of transforming his wife Meg into someone else.

Like I said, this film was awesome. So why didn’t it do well? If I had to guess, I’d say bad marketing. I heard about this film the first time in college with a trailer. I thought it looked cool and I would like to see it when it came out. But that was the last I heard of it, and it dropped off my radar. Occasionally over the next three or four years, I heard whispers, but I somehow got to thinking that Clown was either being delayed or only available outside of the United States. So when it showed up on Netflix, I was honestly very surprised. I was like, “Wait, that’s out now?”

Too many good films are under-advertised.

Well, with any luck this review might get a few more people interested. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Clown a 4.8 out of 5. It’s creepy, it’s a fun concept, and it’ll leave an impression on you. Sadly, it didn’t get the advertising it deserved, but I can see this becoming a cult hit and a Halloween favorite ten or twenty years down the line. Definitely sit down and watch the film, and prepare for some clown-filled nightmares.