American Horror Story: Double Feature Season Premiere Review
*This Review Contains Full Spoilers*
American Horror Story tackles one of its most ambitious feats yet as it splits its tenth season into a double feature to deliver two theme-driven horror stories starting with a beachside vampire tale titled Red Tide.
The last time I actively tuned into a new American Horror Story season was Freakshow, so it’s been a long time since the series got me hooked on its seasonal premises. Once the series became so convoluted with its storylines and themes, I lost interest in what the series was offering. However, after missing out on 1984, a summer camp slasher theme that was right up my alley, I vowed to see what the next season was all about, and this season’s double feature theme is even more exciting to me. Frankly, the series’ obsession with supernatural horror was growing tiring and its attempts at big, expansive storylines were a little too ambitious for its own good. This series really needed a return to form that, based on what I’ve heard, was found in 1984 and Double Feature looks like it could continue this trend with the small town, seaside vampire story it introduces.
Red Tide brings us into the desolate and dreary Massachusetts town of Provincetown. Although a booming tourist attraction in the summer season, Provincetown turns into a ghost town in the winter with only a few locals sticking around. With how isolated and empty Provincetown is, this setting instantly gives you eerie chills. There’s just something so lonely and dark about it that turns the fun summer beach setting into a cold, deserted horror haven. What we find out about the local drug problems doesn’t make Provincetown any more comforting to be in and some the locals we meet certainly don’t give warming first impressions. The only people who would really want to come to Provincetown during the winter frankly are vampires, given the lack of sunlight and less people, and writer’s looking to find solitude.
Ironically, that’s exactly what we get as struggling TV writer Harry Gardner (Finn Wittrock) brings his pregnant wife Doris (Lily Rabe) and their daughter Alma (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) to Provincetown for the winter in order for him to break out of his current writer’s block. At face value, they seem like your idealistic family and Harry and Doris’ ambitiously creative mindsets have translated to Alma with her being an incredibly talented violinist with ambitious goals, but that’s not something that always sits well with Harry. Harry’s clearly insecure about his writer’s block and it’s affecting his relationship with his family. His personal struggles for success and recognition come out in these passive aggressive remarks about his daughter’s violin playing plaguing his ability to write and he even kind of shows how he values his own work more than anything that Doris is doing.
Don’t get me wrong, Harry isn’t made out to be this unlikable villain. Even when he’s clearly frustrated with Alma playing her violin, he tries to play it off like he isn’t mad and rather proud of her. He still tries to be a good husband and father in the ways that he comforts and protects them after some pale, animalistic people begin to stalk them. Also, after they survive a home invasion from a pale assailant, it’s pretty odd that Doris would be concerned with the home project and at least Harry would rather leave than put the safety of his family in jeopardy. Harry definitely has his faults and his need for a good script not only creates some subtle fractures in his home life but also make him the perfect target for two lounge singers who are more than meets the eye.
Most of the other Provincetown residents are your standard local yokels with unremarkable names but very familiar faces. Sarah Paulson returns in her most unique role in the series to date as Tuberculosis Karen, a conspiratorial local, and Macaulay Culkin makes his American Horror Story debut as Mickey, a local male prostitute who is clearly going to be fun to watch going forward. While most locals fit the profile for the drug addiction and dreariness within Provincetown, there are two people that stand out – Austin Sommers (Evan Peters) and Belle Noir (Frances Conroy). Obviously having Peters and Conroy is always an expected treat, however, the characters they play are equally interesting since they play a major role in Red Tide’s vampiric threat.
The pale vampires we see here aren’t your stereotypical vampires. It seems like they can take some sunlight given that we see one of them attempt to hunt down Doris and Alma in the middle of the day. Their reflections can be seen since we see Austin’s reflection in a mirror after talking to Harry. Also, it doesn’t seem like any of the special rules about killing apply since Harry ends up killing the pale attacker without stabbing him with a wooden stake – he just kind of bashes his head in. So, we’re clearly not playing into some kind of established vampire mythos or rules, which is fine. It’s great that this series wants to create its own lore and vampire origins and there are some story seeds already being planted.
It seems like there is some kind of agreement between the vampires and locals given the interactions we see between Karen, Mickey, and Belle. Karen and Mickey are very aware that Belle is a vampire and likely know who the other ones are. They perform favors for them in exchange for them likely getting to live and it’s an interesting relationship that also showcases why there’s a drug problem in Provincetown. With it being shown that Belle is the one supplying the drugs, you have to wonder who they are meant to benefit? When Belle is sucking the blood out of Mickey’s arm, there’s a mentioning of Belle enjoying the drugs in Mickey’s bloodstream a little too much. So, are these vampires trying to get their own drug fix through the people of Provincetown? Also, what’s the deal with Chief Burleson (Adina Porter)? She clearly knows more than she is letting Harry and his family know because how could she not notice these pale people that don’t exactly look human.
It’s interesting that there are basically two different types of vampires we’ve seen in this first episode. There are those that can blend in during the day, like Austin and Belle, and there are others who look like these awesome, but horrifying predators. There could be something more to this, like some kind of hierarchy, and adds to the already intriguing mythos. The most important and game-changing addition to this mythos is this mysterious, nameless black pill that Austin gives Harry to “stop his writer’s block.” At this point, it’s tough to make heads or tails of it, but there’s definitely something more to it. Maybe it’s to get Harry addicted to drugs or possibly even make him a pale vampire. We’ll find out soon since Harry just downs the pill and it’ll likely come at a grave cost.
American Horror Story kicks off its first entry in its double feature-themed season with a moody and mysterious seaside vampire tale that shows great promise. Red Tide is a refreshing return for the horror anthology that features plenty of fan-favorite faces, and it could be one of the strongest AHS entries yet.