Review: American Horror Story: Hotel – Checking In

And here we are again. American Horror Story has returned along with its magnificent cast. To be honest, it’s the cast that keeps us coming back. Despite the many weaknesses of the show, particularly in Freak Show with is somewhat lack of central storyline, we’re still hooked. Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Evan Peters, Frances Conroy and, of course, Jessica Lange have especially left a mark on the show, to the point where it couldn’t possibly have had the same level of success had each season brought in a brand new cast. With only Paulson, Rabe and Evans confirmed (so far) to appear this season, Hotel better not disappoint us.

The opening shots of Hotel beautifully set the mood. The pan shots of the deep red and warm yellow colour scheme of the foyer and the occasional fish lens creates a mysterious and malevolent atmosphere (inspired by The Shinning no doubt). The music is reminiscent of old horror movies, which is a clever juxtaposition to the modern day setting. Clearly this is a place trapped in time much like the house in season 1. This is where Hotel‘s potential lies. It feels like it’s better thought out than Freak Show, and it seems like it’ll use the strengths of Murder House and Asylum. A coherent and well executed plot has never been a AHS strong suit but that’s not really an issue overall. It’s how the characters react and interact in Ryan Murphy’s world that really captivates us.

The Shinning
American Horror Story: Hotel

One of the main cast members this season is Hypodermic Sally (charming name) played by AHS sweetheart Sarah Paulson. She may not have been such a strong character in Murder House but Paulson has become a necessary part of the show. Her characters are deeply flawed and sympathetic and we can’t help but love her. As Sally, Paulson gives us a tragic portrayal of a junkie who’s lost everything a lifetime ago. There’s no innocence about her but she’s an underdog so clearly we’re going to be rooting for her. To an extent. She’s still very much unhinged and dangerous.

Before going on any further, it’s easier to just mention now that every character so far is an archetype. There’s Kathy Bates, the concerned mother who has to live with letting her junkie son (Matt Bomer) lose his way to drugs. There’s the [possible] genderfluid, sassy bellboy played by Denis O’Hare. There’s the dutiful cop (Wes Bentley) who’s hunting for a serial killer, is still dealing with the loss of his son, and has resigned himself to the fact his marriage is over. There are the standard horror movie creepy kids running in the hallways and messed up creatures that are nightmare inducing. They all followed pre-existing conventions but the guests of Hotel Cortez seem like they’ll be worth following for a while longer.

Then there’s the big draw card for this season: Lady Gaga. In lieu of Jessica Lange (who can never be replaced in AHS), Gaga plays the enchanting murderess, seducing her victims and living for pleasure and self-gratification. It’s actually a role that could’ve worked for Lange herself, but Gaga is in her element. The elaborate costumes, the looks, the overt sexuality all are very much suited to a Gaga music video. Yet, it works here too. So while we’re still holding our breath that Lange makes a return even if only for one episode, we’ve got a decent cast to tide us over.

At points Hotel feels like it’s trying to conjure up its inner Shinning but, of course, that’s not possible and it knows that. The fact the episode ends with The Eagle’s Hotel California is the kind of self-awareness that is necessary to keep the show from taking itself too seriously. While it’s still early days for Hotel, there’s hope for it to be a strong season. But just to be safe, lower those expectations ever so slightly and try to enjoy the ride.

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