A man in a Mercedes mows people down at a job fair. Two years later, the case is unsolved. Until Dt. Bill Hodges gets a video from the killer.
FRONTIER begins with blood, war, and plenty of colonialism.
An ex-con comes to Banshee, winding up in the middle of a shootout involving two criminals and the new local sheriff.
TNT’s Animal Kingdom
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by John Wells
Written by Jonathan Lisco
* For a review of the next episode, “We Don’t Hurt People” – click here
David Michôd’s 2010 film Animal Kingdom was a tour-de-force in acting, tension, and the story of a family’s widening darkness. Of course set in Australia and telling the story of a crime family coming up violently against the police, Michôd did a great job drawing out an impressive drama that was riddled with secrets, power struggles, and so much more.
This new series from TNT begins right where the film did, too. Joshua Cody (Finn Cole) watches his mother overdose, and die. The paramedics come for her. Later, he’s forced to call his grandmother, Smurf (Ellen Barkin), to tell her the bad news. When grandma arrives she goes through her daughter’s things, y’know, in case there’s anything worth taking. Or anything that needs to be taken.
So Josh ends up having to go live with Smurf. They’ve been estranged for a decade. Over at grandma’s the place is like a palace, with nice vehicles outside, all the toys, a pool table inside. On the table next to some strawberries are stacks of cash, bundled. Looks like the Cody family are definitely into some shady shit.
So now we’re introduced to some of Smurf’s boys. Close family friend Barry ‘Baz’ Brown (Scott Speedman), plus two of her sons Craig and Deran Cody (Ben Robson/Jake Weary). They’re ready to party, as it seems is the norm. Grandma is busy getting cupcakes and other grub ready. For the time being, Josh is in the room where his uncle Andrew – a.k.a Pope (Shawn Hatosy) – usually stays.
But outside, the gang are a little at odds. Deran wonders if they can trust their little nephew. The others aren’t so sure, either. They’re wary of him because they don’t know what their now dead junkie sister Julia “put in his head“, but Smurf lays down the law and tasks them with figuring it out. “The kid is in until I say he isn‘t,” explains the matriarch.
Meanwhile, Josh’s mother is still on the hook for money to a local dealer. He knows Josh, he knows where they lived, so what’s stopping him from tracking the kid down? If he really wants that cash. So there’s a lot for the guy to deal with, right after the death of his mother. Lots of feelings delayed. At the same time, Smurf’s house is a veritable party place where her sons frolic. It’s a very free, weird atmosphere. Even more than the original film, which was odd enough re: the relationship between mom and her sons. Smurf wears a revealing gown, showing off her body, as Craig storms out from his room naked. No secrets, though. That’s the strange message that does come across here. There is nothing hiding anything between Smurf and her boys, even if it ventures over the semi-incestuous border.
The uncles take their nephew for some surfing, to try and “suss him out“, as commanded by their mother. And after a confrontation with some other surfers, Craig puts a piece in Josh’s hand. He runs them off and they end up with a couple new boards for themselves.
Life is a general party for Smurf and the boys. A life too good to be true. Baz and his lady Catherine (Daniella Alonso) are usually around, their little girl, too. Big pool parties, all the time. Joints, beers, liquor, women. Lavish lifestyle on the regular. Josh slowly tries to become a part of the clan and get used to this new way of living.
Then, out of nowhere, Pope arrives, almost clandestine. He frightens Josh a little. And now we’re introduced to Pope, his history of bank robbery, jail, so on. There’s a bit of resentment in the air, as he makes clear the time served, out loud, for everybody to hear. His disposition is quiet, subtle. But anyone who knows actor Shawn Hatosy knows he can be volatile, so I look forward to him picking up on the role Ben Mendelsohn played so well in the original.
Josh is on the precipice of becoming part of a dangerous group of individuals. There’s obviously a good person in him. He doesn’t quite fit right in, even holding that gun with his uncle Craig at the beach. But it’s obvious there is a disconnect between him and the things his family are doing.
Speaking of fitting in, Pope isn’t happy with how things are after his jail sentence. Things have changed. Not that they’ve moved on, but naturally a criminal enterprise has to switch things up a little after one of its major players goes to jail. He wants back in, though, Smurf and Baz have to keep him slightly distant.
The worst part is that while Josh is part of the family, by blood, the rest of the family and Baz are not sure about him because he has this total other part of him, a life outside the family. This makes him a liability.
Meanwhile, Baz and the Cody brothers are out preparing for a job. They round up a bunch of junkies, lock them in a vehicle overnight to get it smelling terrible. What are they up to?
Later on with Uncle Pope, Josh talks awkwardly. Well Pope goes on about Josh’s mother, how they were twins, shared a room, all that sort of stuff. He genuinely seems to reach out in their moment together, even if Josh isn’t sure what to think. Either way there’s a budding connection between this uncle and his nephew, maybe that will go somewhere. I wonder how they’re planning on adapting things, so it’ll be interesting to watch the plot and the characters develop in a series.
At the cemetery, Josh finds his family confronted by a neighbour, Dina (Karen Malina White). She knew Josh and his mother, warning him about the family, what Julia did to keep him away from them all. A tense moment. We’ll surely see more of Dina at some point. I only hope nothing bad will happen to her at the hands of the Cody brothers.
Nobody’s all too upset over the death of Julia. The brothers aren’t torn up much. Smurf seems a little thrown of, but not as much as most mothers if their daughter died. Although, it’s obvious Julia pushed away from the family and their ways.
More of Pope trying to get back into the organization. On the side, away from everyone, Baz agrees to let him in on their job a little, without telling Smurf. The arrival of Pope is bound to bring about trouble, in many ways.
Josh gets to hanging out more with the family, his girlfriend Nicky (Molly Gordon) along for the fun. There is a lot of awkwardness which hangs over the crew. At times, Pope eyes Catherine – is there some sort of previous relationship with them? Then there’s Uncle Craig, who plies Nicky for money into catching food in her mouth; this sets up an underlying sexual tension, especially after she tucks the money into her bra afterwards. With all the odd, incestuous behaviour at grandma’s place, this only makes things more tense. A little later Craig is snorting coke in front of everyone, tempting Nicky, though, she opts not to go ahead; in her eye, a sparkle flickers, and there’ll be more to that eventually.
There is a truly eerie presence to Hatosy’s Pope here in this first episode. He even carries Nicky off to bed quietly before Josh finds him standing over her, breathing heavily. Jesus. This doesn’t totally shake Josh, but it obviously gives him an eye into some of the deviousness of his uncles. Next morning, Josh encounters more of his family and their weird behaviour. Pope just walks on in and stands there with his nephew, who is naked in the shower. We constantly see there are no boundaries, no hidden secrets or moments between any of these people. It’s discomforting, unnerving, and yes, downright frightening at times. There’s not even a sexual nature to the semi-incestuousness I’ve mentioned. It’s more like an absolute disregard for any individuality, they’re all just a collective, and nothing is kept secret; not actual secrets, nor the body.
But now we figure out what the junkies and their fluids were for – the boys are pulling a job and want to “keep the crime lab busy“, so aside from being absolutely disgusting for them to endure, it is a rather genius idea forensically.
At home, Smurf is not happy about Pope taking Josh out for some criminal fun. Pope gets very physical, both with Josh and even his own mother. There’s an awful, ugly tension between son and mother here in this scene. Nevertheless, he tells Josh: “You pass.” What a fucked up family, man. Their relationships are incredibly strange, extremely close. Josh doesn’t want much part of it right now. But with the death of his mother there isn’t anywhere else he has to go.
Baz and the Cody brothers pull off their heist. It’s a real smash and grab, which works perfectly with the piss and shit and puke covered SUV they prepared. Only they never expected a run-in with police. This puts a bullet in Craig’s shoulder, too.
Simultaneously, Josh discovers his inner bad ass. When the drug dealer from earlier tries to collect on his dead mother there’s trouble. Josh knocks the gun from his hands, turning the tables, and ends up walking away fine; piece and all. So while there’s a part of his family that can be useful, to teach him not to lay down and take shit, most of it is a dangerous mixture that will prove toxic. Still, he doesn’t see that. All he gets right now is the glamour, the fun, the excitement, all the wild partying.
Then he sees Craig being patched up. Both sides of become more clear. It’s even creepier, too. With Uncle Deran crying in his mother’s lap in the next room. So many angles. When Josh and Pope have a talk later, the uncle tries to make him more at home in the family. Will Josh slide further into their grip? It’s tough to tell.
Excited to see where the series goes from here. The pilot is promising. Not perfect, and nowhere near as amazing as the original film, but it has things to build on. Lots of intriguing plot to mine, great characters to develop. And the acting is stellar to start, especially from Hatosy and Barkin. Stay tuned, we’ll see more again soon enough.
FOX’s Scream Queens
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by Ryan Murphy
Written by Ian Brennan (Cooties)/Brad Falchuk/Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the next episode, “Hell Week” – click here
Just to start, I loved Ian Brennan’s writing and acting in Cooties, as well as the fact I’m a huge fan of the Brad Falchuck-Ryan Murphy FX series American Horror Story (all my reviews so far are here). So I walked in biased, but still, I do think the best parts of these three writers show up in the Pilot episode for the new series Scream Queens.
The opening of the episode is one that sort of hammers you. Not even the immediate blood – which is proved to be something else than you might originally believe it is – but afterwards, once you see the girl in the bathtub, after having given birth in the tub, that’s when things rocked me. I paused and went “Whoa”. In a great, horrific way.
An immediate thing I loved about this Pilot is that the horror is so obviously there, yet it’s a good riot. Some viewers said it tried too hard. I don’t think so, personally. Right from the minute all the people at the party were rocking out to TLC’s “Waterfalls”, I thought to myself: I’m going to love this.
“Who told you you could have a baby here tonight?”
So the setup is, after the shocking death of this young mother in the bathtub, twenty years later the horror TRULY begins!
Straight away, after those two decades have passed, we meet Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) – possibly the most irritating and heinous young woman we’ll ever come across. She’s the sorority queen, the one who tortures young pledges (is that what they’re called? I don’t know; that frat/sorority shit is so dumb – great fodder for comedy-horror). Her character comes across as heavy handed at first, but I think it’s going to serve the story well. We’re already seeing these unlikeable characters, not strange within the horror genre, and no doubt SOME of them – probably not Chanel as Emma Roberts seems to be the star here – will find death at the hands of a masked murderer.
Aside from Chanel, there are her unfortunate numbered others – Chanel #2, #3, and oddly #5 (respectively: Ariana Grande, Billie Lourd, Abigail Breslin); there was a #4, but she got meningitis and obviously couldn’t hack it, right? These Chanels are the ones who take the brunt of Chanel #1’s awfulness. There’s also Ms. Bean a.k.a White Mammie (Jan Hoag) who is there to seemingly please Chanel constantly and do anything she ever wants, no matter if it’s important or nonsense on a whim.
Aside from the “bitches”, there’s the new girl on campus Grace Gardner (Skyler Samuels) and her wonderfully energetic roommate Zayday Williams (Keke Palmer). Grace has a very loving father, Wes (Oliver Hudson) but her mother passed away. So with the sympathetic view of Grace from the beginning, it’s easy to see she’ll likely not die – at least not as early as any of the other mean spirited, awful young college girls.
I also like the other random characters such as Nasim Pedrad’s hilarious Gigi Caldwell, with the strangest fashion sense I’ve ever witnessed; she’s always a treat, whether on Saturday Night Live or elsewhere. Also, I think Lea Michele is flat out HILARIOUS as Hester. From the very first moment we see her character, the way she talks, the freeze frame: fucking funny as hell. She’s awesome.
Furthermore, I thought Diego Boneta as Pete is a good addition. I don’t think I’ve ever personally seen him in anything before, but he’s going to serve well as a decent male character, I think. We’ll see as the time goes on. The stuff with Pete and Grace was good, as well as just the dynamic between Pete and Chanel; the fact Pete is a bit of a reporter works in a fun way with everything else going on at the campus.
There is a pretty good setup of despicable characters mostly, which only extends once we start to meet some of the other students around the campus. Like Chad Radwell (Glen Powell) and his sidekick Boone (Nick Jonas), the DUDEBROS. Oh man. What’s awesome here, though, is the fact Murphy and Co. are setting up all these types to be bait, to be victims; Murphy particularly knows horror, so well, as does Falchuk and I’m starting to believe Brennan does, as well. So we’re getting this cast of killable characters introduced in comedic fashion. Instead of following typical horror formula all the way, as a television series Scream Queens has the ability to flesh out ALL the characters, including some of the more nasty and hateable ones. This is something I particularly find interesting because usually in horrors, especially a lot of 1980s films, these asshole-like characters often get killed off too quickly to ever be anything but annoying. I’m not saying you’ll grow to like these characters, not all of them, however, I do think even the frat douchebags and the sorority assholes will come to be more than simply one-dimensional meat for kill scenes.
Not only do we get Jamie Lee Curtis in this show, as the acidic and sly Dean Cathy Munsch, but we get Curtis doing some excellent work. Granted, it’s only the pilot. Still I see the kernels of an excellently developed character here. Just the way she lays in bed with that young guy, the banter, the joint smoking, plus Curtis looks AMAZING (and I think always has); I think that scene alone is wonderful. But it’s the back and forth between Dean Munsch and Chanel Oberlin (Roberts) which truly got me going. Because it was funny! Not only funny, Curtis plays well off Roberts in terms of their characters – the older woman who has seen it all, knows the tricks, probably pulled a ton of them herself VS. the younger, brattier, more foolishly confident and conniving sorority queen with, sadly, the world in her palm. There’ll be lots of good stuff between these two, you can count on that, and it will only get better as the episodes wear on. At least here’s to hoping.
Let’s talk cinematography and score. I personally LOVED the look and sound of the entire episode! There’s an ominous score at parts in the opening sequence. It’s once the synth, poppy score kicks in during the introduction to Chanel that the music takes hold. I’m a sucker for fun, electronic style music in a score. Works wonders here. Then we get the dark stuff again during moments of horror or tension.
In terms of cinematography, there are moments where I definitely get an American Horror Story vibe. Not frequently, though, honestly. I dig the way this has a similar feel in terms of darkness, but the look has this very neat and tidy thing going on which is different. There’s also this beautiful contrast between that pristine, pretty style and the horror which turns up over and over. It makes the horror – dare I say – much more fun.
Finally, I have to mention the GNARLY kills which I totally dig.
The deep frier death of Ms. Bean (Hoag) was so nasty and incredible. When she pulled her face out, the deep fried bits of her skin were so wild. Not only that, I absolutely cried – I mean tears for real running out of my eyes – when Zayday (Palmer) responds “Yes you do“. Watch it, you’ll know what I mean. Perfect delivery. This also goes to show how Keke Palmer is going to be another excellent part of the cast, in my opinion. Funny lady!
Ariana Grande’s kill scene was absolutely a riot. I thought it made fun of modern day youth culture – smartphones particularly – so well and it had me in stitches.
There’s definitely a Sinister homage with the sequence at the end, with the ride-on lawn mower. One of the first things I thought, as the camera catches the light on front of the mower in that perspective view, is one of the found footage tapes from Sinister; not a rip-off, but a nice homage to a pretty awesome modern horror movie. I also think the earlier scene with the burning skin was a very Cabin Fever-ish homage, but maybe not, though I really suspect it leans in that direction.
This was a fun episode. Not perfect, but definitely sets a wild, funny, and at times horrific tone we’re not always treated to on television. Looking forward to watching and reviewing the follow-up episode, “Hell Week”.
Stay tuned with me! More #ScreamQueens to come.
AMC’s Fear The Walking Dead
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by Adam Davidson (The Following, Hell On Wheels)
Written by Robert Kirkman & Dave Erickson; based on the graphic novel series by Charlie Adlard/Robert Kirkman/Tony Moore
* For a review of the next episode, “So Close, Yet So Far” – click here
The opening scene of Fear The Walking Dead is a doozy to me. A nice open throat, a man stumbling around in a worn down church, zombie woman eating a face with a knife sticking from her belly. I found the atmosphere of the scene combined with a tense chase pretty awesome, plus the guy playing Nick (Frank Dillane) ejecting himself from the church and into the street where he’s hit by a car looks genuinely frightened.
So this initial moment makes things exciting. Nothing like starting things off on a wild and creepy moment to get viewers interested. Furthermore, I found for at least a few minutes I wasn’t totally positive if Nick was a junkie, or if he was in the first throes of becoming a part of the walking dead horde. Very cool how they played with that whole angle.
There’s a bunch of family drama at the start of this pilot. A lot of people online seem to be lamenting this, wanting more of the zombies. But what you’re not getting, if in that camp of viewers, is that this is NOT The Walking Dead. We’re beginning at the very start, not in media res of the apocalypse like Rick Grimes in the initial episode of the original series.
So if you’re not interested in that – fine. Just don’t say it’s a bad show; first of all it is the pilot, second you can’t judge it badly because you don’t like drama and want zombies. The zombies, at least in the pilot, are not the first and foremost element of what is happening. We’re watching the world as it is about to plunge into the darkness we’ve come to know on The Walking Dead.
There’s a big mix of families happening. We’ve got Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) whose son happens to be Nick, from the start, so that’s enough trouble for her as it is. But then she’s involved with Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis) whose ex is Lisa Ortiz (Elizabeth Rodriguez). Then amongst them of course is Nick, as well as Alicia Clark (Alycia Debnam-Carey), plus Travis’ son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie). At first I found it a little confusing, mostly because it was introduced quick and brief upfront. After a little time, though, I settled in and it was interesting to me. The family represents that sort of mixed racial family that I’m sure is fairly prevalent nowadays in a place like Los Angeles; where this spin-off is set. Some I’m sure will cry that Robert Kirkman, the creators, the writers are all trying to be a little “PC” by making it such a family, but I think it’s more realism than pandering.
What I enjoy in this pilot episode is how Travis (Curtis) tries to listen to Nick (Dillane). Unfortunately for him, the things Nick is saying are far too real. When Travis goes to the church Nick crawled out of – a place where it’s essentially “junkie communion” as he puts it himself – there’s little to verify his story, however, the mood and tone are ominous. He doesn’t necessarily think the zombie apocalypse is upon the all, but Travis does tell Madison (Dickens) he thinks something terrible happened there. Mostly, it all speaks to him wanting to help himself as a father, a stepfather, and just feeling the need to given Nick a hand.
Looks like there are complains about how Fear The Walking Dead has such a junkie-centric thing happening in its first episode. Although, if you look at it wouldn’t a junkie den like that church be a place an epidemic could start? Who knows, really. To me, it’s a place nobody cares about; they are the throwaways of society. So if a guy like Nick shambled out of a place like that, no doubt people would toss off anything he says. Especially if he’s saying someone ate another person. Nowadays it would spread around social media, everyone would claim BATH SALTS, then move on to the next thing. By the time anyone turned around, the apocalypse would be in full-swing and the cities would begin to fall all around us as we’d be in no position to head anything off. So, to me, I found this beginning fitting because it feels genuine, from the relationships to the entire situation of Los Angeles.
I love the scene with Travis as he’s teaching the class about Jack London and his story “To Build A Fire”. Highly ironic when one of his students says he doesn’t care about learning how to build a fire; when asked why not, he replies “I got a stove”. The irony, of course, lies in the fact we already know what’s coming. We’ve seen The Walking Dead, we’ve seen all the zombie horror movies, we can understand that eventually all of these people we’re seeing right now will NEED those skills. If not, their furthering survival is at risk of a quick extinction. So maybe some might say this scene is heavy handed. To me, it follows a great tradition of horror films – from classics like John Carpenter’s Halloween to newer films following it such as It Follows – in which there are these wonderful scenes that speak to thematic/plot elements we’ll see as the story progresses.
There’s solid atmosphere throughout this whole pilot, honestly. From the grim opening with Nick in the church, spilling into the street, to scenes in the hospital – an old man in the bed next to Nick goes into cardiac arrest or something similar; moments later an eerie older woman smiles at Nick, staring. Small bits like this, as well as the look and feel of the scenes themselves, really make for quite a bit of tension.
Moreover, Nick takes off from the hospital, so in terms of plot things get suspenseful. We’re already aware the zombies are out there; the apocalypse has begun officially, whether the characters realize this or not. While Nick saw it, he is a junkie and does not know for sure if he saw a zombie, or if it was the drugs, or if it was drugged madness on the part of the other junkies in that church. So he’s out on the streets, he picks up a burner cellphone, and there’s this wretchedly ominous feeling to the scenes. We’re left wondering exactly how this sad junkie will make out once things start to get insane out in the streets of L.A.
Another thing I love is that the setting is Los Angeles. So while we as the audience hear helicopters and sirens going around, thinking this is the beginning – knowing it – these sounds are commonplace to the characters, as L.A is one hell of a busy city at all times. Never stops, even the helicopters flying over different neighbourhoods. Those characters would not automatically assume that the apocalypse had begun simply because of sirens and helicopters and police cars and ambulances going mad.
Then after a scene with Madison and Travis, once they’ve sped off from the highway, the next day at the school everyone watches a clip from the nightly news, where they’d been near the highway; EMTs are attacked by people on stretchers. Most assume it was drugs, maybe shock as Travis points… but us? Well we know the difference already, even before the characters themselves come to understand what is happening.
Enjoy the inclusion of cellphones, with a bunch of the high school characters watching online videos of the events from the previous night. It seems like a joke to some, yet school is let out early. There’s a sense of chaos brewing. Everything from the music, to the evacuation of buildings, the sound design with more choppers flying about and voices in the air. It’s a great build up towards the episode’s finale.
A scene between Calvin (Keith Powers), who is obviously a friend and dealer both, and Nick is incredibly well done. There’s a genuine terror in Nick; he’s not simply addicted to drugs, he has seen something terrifying and it’s rocking him. Not just that, Calvin is clearly paranoid because Nick’s mom came to him, he’s afraid that Nick has been saying things that ought not to be heard. Very foreboding feeling to the car ride Calvin takes Nick on, as we’re pretty much expecting him to blast the poor junkie away, which we fast discover to be the truth.
Though, it isn’t a drug dealer and a gun Nick needs to be most concerned about. When his mother and Travis show up to get him – after he’s killed Calvin in self-defense – Nick takes them down to where it happened. However the body is not there.
Do you see? DO YOU SEE?
Nick is looking crazier and crazier. Still, we know something is going to happen, something is already going bad.
THEN THE SCORE KICKS IN! That music we know well from The Walking Dead – deep bass, distorted, heavy. In the dark red tunnel, Calvin reappears and he is zombified. Thus begins the zombie apocalypse, which ushers in Fear The Walking Dead.
This episode, while slow to some, is a solid opener to the series. Others wanted a ton of zombie action right away. I stress again: this is not the show you’re looking for! We are getting a slight prequel, once that begins right on the cusp of the apocalypse we’ve already been smack dab in the middle of during The Walking Dead. So it’s only natural to see a lead up to the actual zombie epidemic breaking out.
I guarantee the second episode will pick up in pace and intensity, as well as there’ll be more gore and zombies for everyone. I’m a fan of all that stuff, too! For those who’ve not read this blog, most of what goes on here involves horror one way or another. So I am a massive horror fan, love the gore and the blood where I can get it. At the same time, I do love the drama involved in a good horror series or film. It’s what makes the horror more real, more visceral.
For me, this pilot was great. An incredible mix of family drama, tension, and bits of horror. Really felt like the world going on as normal, right before the zombies descend on Los Angeles. Even more, not a moment did I find myself checking the time; in fact, I had to stop and see how much time was left simply because I hoped it would be at least 15-20 minutes more, as I’d been enjoying the episode that much. Looking forward to a second episode – it’s titled “So Close, Yet So Far” and is directed by Adam Davidson (Hell on Wheels, The Following). One thing I’m sure of – poor ole Nick is going to have some rough withdrawals as the zombie epidemic commences. It’s gonna prove pretty interesting, if anything.
Stay tuned! I’ll be keeping up with each episode of AMC’s Fear The Walking Dead. I’m also soon starting to review The Walking Dead from its first season onward, and I’ll do each episode of the new season once that comes on, too.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 1 – Pilot
Directed by Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck, Running With Scissors, The Normal Heart)
Written by Brad Falchuk & Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the next episode, “Home Invasion” – click hereYou’ve got to admire a series that opens things up in the way Ryan Murphy introduces us to his world with this pilot episode. Not only is it creepy, Murphy lays out the familiar pattern we see running through the entire series: flashbacks which speak to the present day events. Plenty of shows and films use flashbacks, but the way American Horror Story overall as a series uses them is such an intriguing technique, which the writers and directors pull of elegantly, as well as quite horrifically. What I love so much about this aspect is the fact that Murphy has only directed 3 episodes of the series – including the first episode of the newest season, Hotel. So, although he is a creator of the show along with Brad Falchuck, it’s still amazing to see how much influence he has had over the entirety of the series. It’s a continual thing we see in each season, how the flashbacks all come to bear on current day events we’re seeing.
With the opening of Murphy’s pilot we get to see a young Adelaide Langdon watching a creepy, and no doubt haunted, house all by herself; we’ll get to know Addie plenty as the season wears on. Up come a couple redheaded little shits, twins, who are mean to Addie and head inside to cause havoc.Immediately, there’s this eerie sense about the house. Of course, once inside the redhead twins find much more than they bargained for upon entering. There’s this absolutely horrific, brief image of a figure in the dark – awful hands and terrible looking teeth, gnarled, vicious coming at them. I thought that was an excellent start to the horror.
Then there’s an amazing tonal shift. We meet up with Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) who has recently miscarried, as is expected the experience was horrible. After a doctor’s appointment, Vivien heads home to her beautiful home. But in the kitchen she thinks there’s a noise from upstairs. Calling 911 and taking a knife from a block in the kitchen, she heads upstairs only to find her husband Ben (Dylan McDermott) obviously in bed with another woman. Though, we never see her. Outside the room, pleading for forgiveness, Ben gets cut on the arm by the knife Vivien is holding. More words from little Addie echo out of the past, words she’d spoken earlier to the twins: “You’re gonna regret it.”
Love the opening theme; quite creepy. Also, as we go on through these reviews just know I’m all the way caught up – I watch the episodes as they come on, it’s only now I’ve started to review them. So, what I really dig is how Murphy has another opening done for each one to go with the theme of every season. Anthologies, when done effectively, are so much fun in so many ways! American Horror Story is at the top of the anthology heap, as far as I’m concerned.
Lots of fun characters introduced here in the Pilot. Soon, we see the family move into a new home – the creepy house from the episode’s opening scene. Vivien and Ben, along with their daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga), move on in and then we get to meet more of the cast.
The always amazing Jessica Lange plays Constance Langdon – a Southern belle living in Los Angeles. Not only that, she is the mother of Adelaide (Jamie Brewer), who just so happens to barge on into the kitchen and frighten an unsuspecting Vivian with more prophetic creepiness: “You’re going to die in here.” From these two, expect tons of craziness throughout Season 1.
Evan Peters is Tate, a troubled kid sent by his mother to see the new therapist in the city, Ben Harmon. They talk about death, dreams and visions of death and blood and murder. Sick things Tate has inside him. Meanwhile, Tate sees pictures of himself with blood running down his face – other shots show him walking down the hallway, just as the dream he has described, with a macabrely painted face, skull art, and a black trench coat. Very cool and disturbing stuff already! Tate, from the get-go, was always one of my favourites in Season 1.
I love the imagery right off the bat, all the visions going on every which way. Also, the scene where Ben all of a sudden goes downstairs, lighting the fire, only to have Vivien interrupt him wondering what he’s up to. It’s such a weird, dreamy scene, and even Ben doesn’t realize if he’s awake or dreaming. This begins more weirdness to follow.
Furthermore, there’s the fact Moira O’Hara (Frances Conroy) shows up – she was the maid of the house. It seems she pretty much comes along with the house. But there’s something else about Moira, she’s a shapeshifter.. of sorts. While Vivien Harmon sees an older Frances Conroy, Ben Harmon sees Moira as Alexandra Breckenridge – a young, taut, sexified girl in a French maid’s outfit, legs up to her throat in fishnets. So I love the duality here and the dynamic this introduces into the Harmons’ lives.
It’s as if the house is pushing them all, further and further. With every single turn.
Certainly, the tension between husband-wife duo Vivien and Ben Harmon sets up so much of what we’ll see going on throughout Season 1. What I enjoy about this whole angle is that, similar to a movie like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, not only is the family inside the house contending with the house’s evil, they’re battling their own demons.
While I love Dylan McDermott, his character Ben is the type you hate to love. He’s obviously flawed, as he cheated on his wife in her weakest moment. Then he tries to blame her saying that it was him in his weakest moment, that “you got a dog” when she ought to have been cuddling up with him at night.
So the intensity of their family situation, the anger Vivien has towards Ben and the perceived hostility he has in his head towards his own wife, it all adds to the already supernatural forces so obviously at work in the house.
The creepiest, of course, is when Vivien has sex with who she believes to be Ben, dressed up in the latex-looking suit they’d found hanging earlier in the attic; a weird S&M, tight black getup. All the while, thought she sees visions of Ben, her husband is downstairs holding his hand over the oven’s burner. Immediately we know that American Horror Story means to get up to some awfully strange, intense business.
As well, we get views of the evil looking person/thing from earlier in the episode’s opening sequence. Tate has Violet bring a girl over – the one who slighted her hardcore during her first day of school – and in the basement he intends to scare her. However, Violent sees it all, too. Something horrible, ugly, fierce. It’s balding, stringy hair, and the teeth in its mouth look yellow, jagged. I LOVE THIS! So terrifying.
Denis O’Hare plays Larry Harvey, a man who has obviously been in a terrible fire – half of his face is burned, better yet it’s melted. He warns Ben about the house, after lurking around, skulking at the edges of Harmon’s peripheral vision. Larry claims he killed his family and burned down the house, all due to the house, the voices of the house inside his head – he said he was like “an obedient child.”
We’ll watch how his character plays further into the plot of Season 1 as it moves along. Nice introduction to this character.
Two fantastic actresses – Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy – have the chance to go head to head. However, it’s brief. Yet within those few moments they share a great scene, as Constance (Lange) tells Moira (Conroy): “Don‘t make me kill you again.” This is another relationship we’ll see more of once the episodes roll on. Intriguing to say the least.
One other thing I love in this first episode is the use of the music from James Wan’s Insidious. A neat little touch. This technique is employed time and time again in Season 1, which I find is a nice nod to the genre fans out there. It says that Murphy not only understands the horror genre, he is also a fan.
Great episode. We’ve seen so much setup in less than an hour, it’s almost overwhelming. But not quite!
Stay tuned for the next episode, “Home Invasion”.