Ryan Murphy's horror series returns with an extravagant if not flawed opener.
Ryan Murphy’s creepy anthology, American Horror Story, is now into its fifth series, and by now we’ve come to expect its style. It’s hardly the scariest show on television, but it is certainly unsettling with its mix of horrible, creepy storylines and complex characters fused together with a dark sense of humour and a camp, trashy undertone and continuous growth of scope due to the constantly changing setting.
For the first three seasons it was addictive, unfortunately by the fourth, it ended up growing into a total snoozefest despite huge potential with the seasons setting and characters. So what now for the fifth? Well, the series’ usual tone has not been sacrificed, and the explicitness and outrageous style is out in full throttle, in fact so much so, that it’s often too much and loses track of the plot.
The setting of a ‘hotel’ much like the asylum of the second season offers something of intrigue as to how they can make this horror related, rather than lending itself to it easily like the settings of a freak show, a coven and a haunted house. However, It turns out that a lot of the scares are about as gross-out as you can get, with blood sucking vampires and rather grim looking naked mutant men as the horrifying aspects and little else. It’s grim definitely, but one can’t help but be disappointed by the lack of imagination going on. Though the creepy vampiric children succeed in being very scary, with a few scenes definitely being a certain nod to Stanley Kubrick’s own scary hotel film, The Shining.
Like the series before it, the episode opens with a lot of different characters and questions raised. Wes Bentley plays John Lowe, a police detective investigating a series of, to put it lightly, brutal murders that appear to be linked to the mysterious Hotel Cortez. An unknown mysterious voice seems to be stalking him and directing him to the hotel and appears a threat to his family, whom is already fractured as we find a bizarre incident at a fairground five years prior has caused his son to disappear, may be linked with this hotel and the murders. After his starring role as Edward Mordrake in last year’s series, Bentley plays this role with determination and succeeds in pitching himself as a character that we care about.
The main series newcomer of course is Ms Stefani Germanotta otherwise known as Lady Gaga, playing the blood sucking countess of the hotel and serving somewhat as a lead matriarchal replacement for Jessica Lange. To her credit, Gaga gives a strong, enigmatic performance here, if almost exactly what you’d expect from her in a performance oozing power and suspense. Introduced in what’s likely one of AHS’ most explicit scenes shows her and her protégé (Mat Bomer) having a foursome with a couple they meet at a film before devouring them, and bemoaning afterwards lying on a sheet of blood that the clean-up afterwards is always the worst part of going out. You might want to take a cold shower after that.
So while these characters are strong – there is too much of a tendency for gross-out nightmare-ish scenes over actual plot development and this grows tiring and off-putting from the overall mystery, not helped by some scenes being dragged out far longer than they should be to ultimately not much pay-off. Many other characters are introduced, but not expanded upon before another is introduced. The two rather bland cannon fodder tourists whose ordeal in the hotel opens the episode an example of the less successful characters. One particular scene featuring Max Greenfield is already getting a large amount of coverage online, it was a rather unnecessary and overlong scene that featured a rather horrible form of rape torture that did nothing in particular rather than make you want to blank it from your mind.
Special credit goes to Kathy Bates and Sarah Paulson – the latter of which I always personally liked more than Jessica Lange, if only because there was some diversity in the roles Paulson played – who pull off brilliantly the enigmatic hotel staff and/or slaves to the Countess. Little is known about them yet to judge but they have always proved consistently great.
The first episode of Hotel is not without its intrigue and triumphs and there’s enough in it to keep you watching, but it not only suffers a similar problem to the last series of just too many characters and plots to go around but also for the sacrificing of plot substance for style – a problem not too dissimilar with what main star, Gaga has suffered with her own music of late.