American Horror Story is a well-known anthology series. Each season tells a different story, with a different cast, but there are several points where they refer back or forward to each other. Also, much like the name suggests, it is not a kids matinee. The themes are mature and should be considered before watching it. With this, let us take a look at the first season of the series, titled as "The Murder House."
In the story, we can be witnesses of the Harmon family's calvary. With the famous run-away trope of the horror genre, they are trying to patch up the indifferences between them, but alas, they are not aware of what they have gotten themselves into.
I will refrain from discussing the plotline in much detail, so as to not give out any unnecessary spoilers to you because the story is really well-written. It has a very nicely outlined curve, building up a bit more every episode, reaching the height of series at around the seventh episode, and starting the end game in the remaining portion before finally rounding it out with the ending. The story has a gripping momentum, where each episode answers only a few questions to keep you interested, while slowly revealing the truth of the house, it's inhabitants, and of the tales of anyone who comes in contact with the characters.
What I think should be noted about the series, is that contrary to its name, it is not exactly a horror. Let me explain.
Usually, in a horror, I would start to feel uneasy, or at the very least I would think that this would be a time for me to start feeling uneasy. Horror has to act meticulously in order to achieve a certain atmosphere to keep you on your toes. This is apparent in movies like Insidious, The Void, or my personal favorite, The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Compared to these, AHS severely lacks impact in terms of scariness. However, for teenage audiences, or those who are relatively new to horror movies, it may have some effect. I say this because there is a heavy usage of horror ingredients, but these are mostly utilized as jump scares. As they start to appear again and again, they start losing their impact. There is now background music made to enhance the feeling of uneasiness, as well as abrupt silence for that same goal. Actually, it sometimes even lightens the mood with catchy 50s pop tunes and such. Now, let me tell you why I have no real problem with this.
What AHS lacks in sheer terror, it makes up for with psychology. Every single step of the cast is done with clear motivation, or if they are seemingly strange, their reasons are explained later on. I am a sucker for anything psychology-related and the way the series handles its progression by creating friction between the characters in a very realistic way is just marvelous to see. Not to mention the fact that the jump scares losing their worth is possibly a directive choice, symbolizing that the Harmons start fitting in a bit better in the house. As such, instead of calling AHS a horror series, I think a psychological drama with horror elements would be a rather more fitting moniker.
But the characters. Ohhh boy, the characters. As I mentioned, they are well written, with understandable goals and reactions. But I must warn you that you will hate them to no end, or at least I know I did. Not because they are badly made, but because almost all of them are unbearable a**holes. The father should have been beaten up several times during the story, the wife managed to act like a bitch sometimes too, the teenage girl was a teenage girl, and Constance very well may be the greatest douchebag to ever grace the Earth with her presence. She is manipulative, self-entitled, a hypocrite, and can possibly work part-time as a kids show weekend antagonist for how awfully evil she is made out to be. The few moments where we are shown her motivations are easily overshadowed by her general misconduct to anyone in the series.
American Horror Story is an overall very strong psychological drama series operating with frequent horror elements. It has a gripping, well-executed plot line and progression, focusing on the human side of the paranormal happenings. While falling behind in terms of creating tension, it creates an atmosphere perfect for itself, making this season a worthwhile watch for anyone interested in it.
© 2018 Adam Sziksz