American Horror Story Dials Back the Scares but Keeps Things Tense Enough

first_img It’s still hard to believe American Horror Story: Cult managed to turn the absolute mess this season made early on around, but here we are. While this episode wasn’t nearly as scary as last week’s, the tension remained high, and we got a look at the inner workings of Kai’s cult. Let’s get this out of the way first: A scene had to be cut from last night’s broadcast. After the events in Las Vegas last week, FX wisely decided that opening a show with a mass shooting was probably not the best idea. Especially since American Horror Story doesn’t exactly have the best history when it comes to depicting them. Remember when season one played a school shooting like a John Hughes comedy? Man, it’s a miracle this show has lasted seven seasons.Having now seen both cuts of the scene, you still get the message. There’s a shooting at Kai’s campaign rally, and at the end, Ally appears holding the gun. We didn’t need to see bullets going through bodies to get the story, and it doesn’t make the scene any scarier. (Of course, I’ve never been a fan of guns in horror. They’re too loud, quick and easy to be scary on screen. There’s a reason Jason never shot anyone.) What the scene is effective at is instilling a sense of tension in the rest of the episode. We know what happens at the end, and we spend the entire hour finding out how Ally got there.Sarah Paulson (Photo via FX)The good news here is that Ally doesn’t completely suck. After she saw Meadow get captured, she rescues her from the garage. She pretty much tells Ally everything. That her wife is part of Kai’s cult, that he chooses people and makes them feel special to get them to follow him, and that he intends to use fear to control people. The scenes where the episode shows Kai doing exactly this are where the episode is most effective. It’s where the show really dives into the true horror of cults. You can see how masterfully Kai manipulates Meadow. How he gives her everything she wants, and in return, she’ll do anything for him. Even if the episode itself is light on scares, these scenes make the whole thing deeply unsettling. Sometimes, that’s all horror needs to do.There is one problem here though. The whole thing is still kind of predictable. Did anyone believe for a second that Meadow had truly turned on Kai? That if she had, she’d be allowed to live, and not currently sitting in a basement with a head full of nails? Of course, she was playing Ally the whole time. The cult has been making Ally out to be insane all season, and now it’s paying off. She’ll try to tell the world what’s really going on, but nobody will believe her. It’s kind of a shame it was so easy to see this reveal coming. The cult indoctrination scenes were done well enough to keep up the tension, but the predictability severely undercuts what the episode was going for. Also, I still can’t take the pinky swear scenes seriously. They look too ridiculous for how much weight they’re given. Though this one did reveal why the group is targeting Ally in particular. Ivy wants to leave her and take full custody of Ozy. And yeah, it’s not hard to see why. Ally still sucks, and she sucked worse as a co-mother, selfishly lording her biological connection to Ozy over her wife. Are we supposed to be identifying with a cult member over a victim here?Evan Peters, Leslie Grossman (Photo via FX)After the first few episodes, AHS: Cult definitely needed to explain what was going on, but now I worry they explained too much. The clowns are no longer scary. It was important to tell us that they were real, but now that we’ve seen exactly how they operate, it’s hard to be scared when they show up. We know exactly who is under each mask. We know how they get in peoples’ houses. In this episode, they don’t even kill their target in a particularly frightening way. Instead of the sadistic, upsetting kills we’ve seen from them in the past, they just fake Kai’s opponent’s suicide. They write a fake suicide note on Facebook, and shoot her with her own gun. Remember how I said guns weren’t scary in horror? They still aren’t. The part where one clown stalks Ally down the hall, only for Ally to realize it’s her wife could have been scary. It could have if the opening scene didn’t give her plot armor. We know she survives to seemingly shoot up the rally, so she can’t die here.The twist at the end is pulled off nicely, though. We find out that Meadow is the one who really shot up the rally. It was all orchestrated by Kai, who needed an assassination attempt to elevate him to the national stage. In the end, Meadow kills herself for the cause, but not before letting Ally take the gun. The episode had some problems, but it was thrilling seeing everything come together like that. There is any number of places the series can go next week, but I’m just hoping for more scares. A constant sense of discomfort and tension is nice, but I’d really prefer this show start terrifying me.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. Stay on target Top Movie and TV Trailers You Might Have Missed This WeekAmerican Horror Story Takes Us Back to the Days of Witches and Warlocks last_img read more

MovieBob Reviews HEREDITARY

first_img MovieBob Reviews: ‘Shadow’MovieBob Reviews: ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ Stay on target Is Hereditary good?Yes.Is it scary?Scared the bejesus outta me.Oh! So what’s it about?That’s sort of hard to say without giving things away, honestly – though we can certainly try up to a point.Lay it on me.Okay: The film stars Toni Colette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff and Millie Shapiro are the mom, dad, son and daughter (respectively) comprising an upper-class family ensconced in a gorgeous rustic McMansion in rural Utah apparently paid for mainly by mom’s career as a work-from-home artist specializing in disturbingly elaborate miniatures depicting her life. Specifically her difficult relationship with her own mother, who recently passed away from cancer and whom we learn was psychologically abusive toward her and uncomfortably manipulative of her grandchildren along with leading a secret inner life that much of the family only vaguely understands. But even if not particularly well-liked, her death has left a grim presence hanging over the family… exacerbating rifts between them and bringing long-buried resentments to the surface.Ah, so we’re doing the “horror-as-metaphor” thing?…maybe. Getting any more specific about what is or isn’t “really” going on would be verging on spoiler territory. And I almost hesitate to suggest that it CAN be spoiled since it’s entirely possible that the whole reason Hereditary’s unceasing unpredictability and omnipresent storytelling gear-shifts worked so well for me is that I didn’t even know this was a movie I was supposed to be expecting anything other than a straightforward plot progression. But yeah, I guess it’s not giving anything “away” to confirm that the main thematic/aesthetic focus is playing around with the blurry lines between the way the scars of family dysfunction can make us feel like we’re being haunted by malevolent echoes from the past and… possibly being actually haunted by malevolent echoes from the past.Fair enough. Can we talk about tone, at least – as in what “type” of horror movie I’m in for? I’ve heard this referred as “arthouse horror,” for one…When it comes to so-called “art house” horror movies, everyone is always trying to make either The Shining or The Exorcist, American cinema’s twin benchmarks for films that manage to straddle the line between bloody, shock-driven setpiece horror and meditative dramatic narratives about faith family and universal psychological anxieties. I’m not 100% sold that this belongs on the pantheon with either of them, but it’s easily one of the most successful attempts at hitting that specific vibe that anyone has managed in years. Extreme shocker violence, unnerving psychological horror, eyebrow-raising violations of “you can’t do that” narrative taboos and realistic, relatable human drama – that’s about the mix we’re talking… until it’s not.Meaning?That it’s also got at least a toe dipped for necessity in the water of postmodernism – in as much as it’s counting on most people who’d be watching to have either seen or absorbed via cultural osmosis The Shining, Exorcist, Amityville, Rosemary’s Baby, Sixth Sense, The Omen… the whole rest of “The Canon.” Basically, and writer/director Ari Aster seems to take deliberately sadistic delight in using genre-signifiers and our expectations therewith against the audience. Oh, you think you know where this is going because you’ve SEEN a Spooky Kid movie before. Or a Witchcraft movie before, or a Satanic Cult movie before, or a Haunted House movie before, or a Possession movie, or a Gaslighting Conspiracy movie, or a Main Character Doesn’t Know They’re Actually The Crazy One movie, or even an Any One Of Those Things As Metaphor For Familial Dysfunction movie, or whatever it is you THINK it is you’re watching here? Well, think again.Got it. How’s the cast?Very good! Collette is, of course, assigned much of the heavy-lifting as a protagonist who becomes gradually less “sympathetic” the more she becomes “understandable” (which in a way might be the biggest taboo the film ends up breaking, considering how Hollywood movies have come to embrace the gospel that emotional transparency is always an innate good in and of itself). But it’s Wolff who ends up the surprising standout when one considers the near-unthinkable notes he’s asked to play once the actual plot comes into focus. Credit also to Byrne for bringing humanity to an initially thankless straight-man role, and to Shapiro for finding new places to go with one of the horror genre’s most worn-out cliches: The creepy little kid someone should really be keeping a closer eye on.So it comes recommended?Very much. I suspect there’ll be some blowback on this one, considering the “You didn’t warn me THAT was in the movie!” factor and the gradual build from Shyamalan-esque somber realism to batshit-nuts nightmare plunge – everyone says they want a modern answer to Exorcist or The Shining but forget what an assaultive punch to the face of the audience films like that were received as in their day. Hereditary does a good job looking safe, posh and classy… but it’s here to rip your damn head off, and it does a near-perfect job of it. Check it out – if you dare.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.last_img read more