Friday, October 16, 2015

American Horror Story: Hotel

by Melissa Parkin 

Photo by Suzanne Tenner/FX
AHS’s TV teasers are always frighteningly weird and oddly wonderful. They’re essentially works of distressingly beautiful art. This time around with Hotel, it appears showrunners Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk aimed to produce a full 90-minute commercial and slap the label “episode oneon it. This anthology series is notorious for pushing the envelope, but it seems that the creators threw everything but the kitchen sink into the chaotically paced, aimless premiere.

The plot centers on Homicide Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) who finds himself at the center of a series of grisly murders committed by an unknown assailant simply labeled as the Ten Commandments Killer. Aside from him, we’re introduced to a slew of societal misfits all suffering from a variety of addictions. They include Sarah Palson’s hypodermic Sally, Kathy Bates’ obsessive Iris, Matt Bomer and Lady Gaga’s blood lustful Donovan and the Countess, and so on. Is it an interesting set of characters? Definitely. Their purpose in relationship to the main story-line? Seemingly nothing. And therein lies the rub. The grandiose scenery of the Hotel Cortez is undeniably glorious, but it’s not enough to sustain viewers’ interest, when there’s virtually no plot or purpose behind most of the characters.

Everything’s essentially all shot and no powder, in the most disturbing, self-indulgent fashion. American Horror Story is no stranger to disturbing content, and neither are its loyal viewers. Previous seasons gifted us with plenty of nightmare-inducing images, like Asylum’s murderous St. Nick, Freakshow’s killer clown Twisty, and Murder House’s school massacre. What made these scenarios so effectively terrifying was the realistic fear behind the individual stories. Hotel handles its horror factor a bit…differently, to say the absolute least, and it can leave even the most permissive viewers uncomfortable.

The erratic storytelling jumps nonsensically from one bloodcurdling scene to the next with no rhyme or reason. We see a woman being pushed out a window at high heights, two female tourists being held captive to be drained of their blood, a creepy guy climbing out of a sewn up mattress for whatever reason, children being abducted, a man’s eyes and tongue being removed, graphic crime scene images including men being strung up by their innards, and a sexual graphic foursome that ends with two participants having their throats slashed open as the other pair drinks their blood.

But AHS makes sure to scar its audience right out of the gate with its most painfully gratuitous display to date when a wildly foppish heroin addict comes strutting through the Hotel Cortez’s lobby. All the man wants is a quiet little place for him to ride out his high, but that plan goes to hell after he shoots up in his recently rented room. He’s attacked by the brother of that eye monster from Pan's Labyrinth, who proceeds to rape the addict with a large drill-bit tipped metallic dildo. As they’d say in Battlestar Galactica, “What the frak?” I’m no prude when it comes to the horror genre, but honestly, the premiere feels like Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk accidentally aired their showcase of sexual fetish snuff film fantasies instead of an actual episode.

As far as the cast is concerned, with the exception of Wes Bentley’s John Lowe, not a single character is the least bit likeable. For anyone curious as to Lady Gaga’s acting chops, just check out her “Telephone” music video. Her physicality works to her benefit, but whether she has any real emotional range remains to be seen. It’s not until episode two that we get someone truly captivating. Yes, as always, Evan Peters steals the show. This time, in the form of the charming, campy, and utterly psychotic James March, the hotel’s builder and original owner. Despite this bright beacon of hope, the rest of the episode falls flat. As Hotel’s premiere suffers from having virtually no plot, “Chutes And Ladders” fails from having almost nothing but pure exposition. Any creative storyteller knows that it’s always more effective to show rather than tell, so it’s a wonder why Murphy and Falchuk decided to have every plot point discussed through literal guidelines and lengthy explanations.

What makes Hotel even more cringe-worthy is its blatant lack of originality. You can argue that the show is simply paying homage to other horror projects, but in essence, that’s all the show is. Nothing is organic. The biblically inspired central crime is a rip-off of David Fincher’s Se7en; it’s the Ten Commandments in place of the seven deadly sins. James March’s back story comprises of H.H. Holmes and Sweeney Todd, with the body disposal system and the grisly throat slashing. Countless The Shining references can be spotted everywhere from the creepy children in the halls to a cryptic room number to the similarly shaped patterned carpets. Yes, it’s obvious. And there’s a transparent imitation of 1983’s The Hunger. It’s clear that this season favors style over substance, yet remains unclear as to whether it will ever have an identity of its own. If you dare to place a reservation for Hotel, don’t be surprised if you find yourself checking out prematurely.

American Horror Story: Hotel Rating: D+


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