‘American Horror Story’ Breaks Convention to Find Horror in the Unknown

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American Horror Story reinvented itself once again for its much-anticipated sixth season, providing a fresh take on its typical horror narrative that fans of the show have come to love since its premiere in 2011. This season, which premiered on Sept. 14, will come to a close in the next few weeks, but not before shaking things up a bit for its viewers.

Fans knew this season would deviate from its predecessors almost immediately when producers of the show released a series of disjointed, vague ads this past summer in what many thought was simply a publicity stunt. The ads,  released mostly as short video snippets, contained bugs, monsters, and a mobile made of knives dangling over a crib. A single thread ran through them all, however: a question mark next to the number 6 woven into each. Most fans of the show figured this was a milestone marking the show’s deviation from its previous advertisements that became iconic for their vague hints towards the central theme of a coming season. It is now apparent, however, that this was a way of communicating that Season 6 does not fit the conventional mold of narrative structure on television.

The sudden change appears to be in response to dissatisfaction with the show’s previous seasons. Fans of American Horror Story groaned that the show began to get stale and gimmicky, as viewers were subjected to season after season of the same gore and jump scares without the psychological thrill that hooked them in Seasons 1 and 2.



Season 6, however, turned conventional plot structures on their heads by telling the horrific story of newlyweds Shelby and Matt Miller in the form of a mock crime documentary that detailed their move to a strange house in Roanoke, N. C. The narrative of this season oscillates between the “real” Matt and Shelby, who tell their accounts directly to the viewer in a confessional-type shot, and the “reenacted” form of these two characters, played by actors. The first five episodes of the series follow this format as Matt and Shelby tell their stories in a voice-over as the “reenactment” plays out for us viewers. The format of Season 6 is simultaneously jarring and refreshing for viewers as they experience the vertigo that comes with watching a television show within a television show.

Things only get stranger around the sixth episode of the season, as the fake documentary entitled My Roanoke Nightmare comes to a close and viewers are shown text that reads, “My Roanoke Nightmare was the television success story of 2015…” followed by an announcement that the show’s producers had been asked to create a follow-up series. The narrative then shifts to the producer of the show, Sid, pitching the idea of his next show to his network. The next show would be titled Return to Roanoke, Sid says, and would involve bringing both the “real” survivors of the traumatic incident and the actors of the reenactment together in the house in which the horrific events took place.

Once the narrative shifts to what is supposed to be real life, the show takes a more traditional approach to the horror plot, as all the participants in Return to Roanoke begin experiencing strange things in the haunted house. As more unexplainable events happen, the focus of the plot shifts toward the tension that arises between the survivors and the actors who played them. The actors are skeptical of the supernatural things happening around them, but the survivors–having narrowly escaped them once before–immediately panic. Viewers are then hooked to both the drama between the two factions and the impending bloodbath about to be perpetrated by the killers of Roanoke.

Season 6 of American Horror Story has proven to be a truly innovative work, breaking traditional norms of narration and returning to the eerie thrill that earned the show its fame.

Featured Image By FX