New season American Horror Story, the long-running horror series created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk in 2011, marked two unprecedented events (for AHS). Murphy and Falchuk first handed over the creative reins to Hallie Feiffer, an award-winning playwright and iconic film actress known for her work on Broadway and in the films of Noah Baumbach. And for the first time, an AHS season is based on a novel, which is a variation on Ira Levin’s classic book. Rosemary’s Baby (based on the film by Roman Polanski in 1969).
AHS Season 12 adapted from Delicate condition, a novel by Danielle Valentine about Anne Alcott, an independent actress desperate to have a child. Anna, played with just the right amount of naivety, desire and ambition by Emma Roberts, undergoes a grueling course of in vitro fertilization (IVF). But things go horribly wrong, and even her husband (played by none other than Matt Czuchry of Gilmore Girls Slava) is ready to believe that someone is playing perverted games with her.
Since its inception in 2011, the franchise has strived to showcase the American brand of horror. Murphy and Falchuk, who previously co-authored the Boundary Expansion Project Pinch/Pull, have always strived to innovate with AHS. It practically created its own subgenre within the diverse horror landscape, exploring themes of race and neurodiversity, as well as featuring queer characters and older women in unexpected roles. The series also features a visually stunning aesthetic that reimagines even the most clichés.
American Horror Story the anthology maintained continuity with series mainstays Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Frances Conroy and Jessica Lange. Their crossing paths in various roles have become the true driving force of each season, as these actors undergo compelling transformations from ghosts and witches to serial killers, freaks and post-apocalyptic survivors. The show continually pushed the boundaries, offering a variety of nuanced characters while still recognizing their true humanity.
Hayley Feiffer’s mastery as showrunner of this illustrious and enigmatic series is astonishing. She skillfully uses the minimalist cinematography so popular these days, sometimes even filming scenes upside down. Not to mention the exceptional character portrayal, especially the striking duo of black-feathered women who do more than just stalk the protagonist. The change in leadership of the series occurs smoothly and is barely noticeable if you don’t focus on it. Feiffer’s vision features plenty of lighting and few night scenes, although several sequences were directed by the dark and brooding Jennifer Lynch.
The story is actually quite simple: there is a woman who wants something she can’t have, and everyone around her is manipulating and using her. Feiffer uses the human body as a catalyst for a nightmare, reminiscent of the story of Julia Docourneau (titanium) cinematic style, but without any hidden notes of the French director. One scene in particular—with the hair—is endlessly striking and takes the classic Murphy/Falchuk story to a painfully intimate level. The loss of control in the face of an unstable reality, fueled by paranoia, only intensifies the horror.
A creepy fable
Criticizing Hollywood and its ruthless pursuit of fame (consuming stars to fuel the dream factory), this season of AHS takes on a dark, fairy-tale tone. Kim Kardashian, who plays the agent and best friend of Emma Roberts’s character, is a cunning seductress who compels the protagonist to choose between an Oscar and life itself. Anna Alcott (Roberts) is nominated for an Oscar and must now embark on a promotional tour that means giving up everything else – even the possibility of motherhood.
Feiffer’s vision is a domesticated version of the Murphy/Falchuk formula, in which a powerful villain controls the protagonist’s world. This season’s nightmare of AHS is entirely believable as Anna Alcott’s life is being manipulated by remote forces that have hacked her cell phone. It is not social media that dictates our lives, but rather our acceptance that we are enslaved by a system of seemingly personalized systems.
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