Tuesday, July 17

Second Take: New format brings true scares to ‘American Horror Story’ sixth season

Season six of “American Horror Story” mixes up its format by incorporating dramatic interviews while still delivering the classic scares from past seasons. (FX)

Season six of “American Horror Story” mixes up its format by incorporating dramatic interviews while still delivering the classic scares from past seasons. (FX)

“American Horror Story” returned for its sixth season Sept. 14, this time with a pig-headed monster and pilgrims instead of the worm rapist and vampire children of “Hotel.”

The season, titled “Roanoke,” references a American colony in the late 1600s that mysteriously disappeared without any explanation.

Thanks to a new interview and dramatic re-enactment format, viewers are in store for a terrifying country thriller with cult-like bonfires and creepy forests reminiscent of “The Blair Witch Project” and “Children of the Corn.” Unlike season five, this season uses tasteful gore and genuine scares, with the third episode airing most recently on Wednesday.

[Related: Second Take: Weak plot fails to deliver for ‘American Horror Story’]

Season six follows the “true” story of characters Shelby Miller (Lily Rabe) and Matt Miller (André Holland) after they move into the country to escape the city life. After buying a run-down, creepy house in the middle of nowhere, they begin experiencing unexplained events like teeth raining from the sky, mysterious pig monsters and human pit roasting.

The season begins with real-life Shelby and Matt Miller explaining their haunting experience to the camera in various interviews, a stark contrast to past seasons’ traditional narratives. However, in between interviews, fellow cast members Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr. act out the paranormal stories as documentary actors playing Shelby and Matt Miller, creating two separate timelines.

At first, the documentary “inspired by true events” concept seemed cheesy to me; the interview and dramatic re-enactments format reminded me too much of the low budget History Channel shows my dad watches Sunday afternoons. As a result, I had low expectations within the first five minutes of the premiere episode.

However, the more I watched the interview scenes play out, the more I became convinced that the nontraditional format actually worked.

Through the interview scenes, the characters feel more authentic and as a result, so do the supposedly true stories they tell. The “real” Shelby and Matt Miller provide insight that would otherwise be missing from the re-enactments of the two actors. As the actress Shelby Miller runs around wildly in the woods during what seems to be a wildly unrealistic reaction to a possible home invasion, the “real” Shelby Miller provides emotional insight into what she was feeling during an interview that follows the scene.

Along with a more realistic telling of the story, “Roanoke” also utilizes a variety of scare tactics that work to add extra layers of creepiness to each episode. The first two episodes used some form of “found footage” such as old tapes that depict a pig monster in the woods and a cryptic professor who was presumably murdered in the Miller’s house. The addition of strange straw dolls throughout the forest adds even more eerie scene-setting, referencing similar dolls used in the popular horror drama “The Blair Witch Project.”

Jump scares are also prevalent – something that I felt was missing in the last season. I nearly fell out of my seat when Matt Miller’s sister Lee (Angela Basset) turned away from twitching pigtails nailed into the hallway wall, only to face the mysterious pig monster. In episode three, a psychic calls upon the spirits of the house, only to invoke the wrath of a demented Puritan who slashes a candle in half.

After a disappointing fifth season, the “American Horror Story” franchise seems to be returning to its roots with a good, old-fashioned haunting. Within the isolated North Carolinian house, the series has revamped its entire storytelling layout, trading in traditional storylines for documentary-style episodes and promising one of the most innovative seasons yet.

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A&E editor

Nickolai is the A&E editor. He was previously the assistant A&E editor for the Lifestyle beat and an A&E reporter.

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