TV Review: “American Horror Story: Coven” – Wankery

Written by Jesse Gelinas October 26, 2013

A whole coven of witches on this latest installment of "American Horror Story" Shock is not Horror!

I have a real problem with Ryan Murphy. I have a problem with his entire career, but that is not the issue here. The issue is that he has no comprehension of what makes a horror story, or what lies at the heart of the horror genre. Fear, terror, suspense, the mystery of the unknown; these are the building blocks of horror. Ryan Murphy is not aware of these ideas. “Coven” has had a few weeks now to prove itself, and I have to say so far, the product is quite disturbing in all the wrong ways.

“Coven” follows another disjointed multiple timeline story regarding the supernatural. So right away, we lack any sort of attempt at original storytelling. In the 1830s, Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) is a rich, psychopathic slave owner obsessed with remaining young and torturing black men. In the present, a coven teenage witches under the tutelage of their headmistress, hone their craft at the Xavier School for the Gifted witch academy. Jessica Lange plays the current Supreme, a powerful witch intent on keeping her station indefinitely. Angela Bassett also shows up as an immortal voodoo practitioner with a score to settle. There’s also a Minotaur… and a Frankenstein’s monster ripoff. Sound like a classic “American horror story”? Sure, why not?

 Murphy’s Buzzwords of Horror: Rape, Incest, Beastiality, Underage Drinking

The show has so little going for it it’s unbelievable. First of all it looks awful. I kid you not, there isn’t a single steady, level angle in the entire show. Every shot is tilted at least 30 degrees. I guess Ryan Murphy and his DoP think it gives the show a creepy, surreal vibe. In actuality it’s just annoying and distracting. The rest of the show’s aesthetics aren’t much better. True to its cliche nature, every witch wears black. Only black. All the time. The tweeny Sabrinas also fill all diversity quotas. There’s the obese African-American who spends all her time acting sassy. There’s the sex-fueled “hot girl” who focuses all her energy on drawing your focus to her underage genitalia. There’s the girl with Downs Syndrome. Not much more to say there. And there’s the meek, mousy star who, even though she’s clearly not the most attractive, is utterly irresistible to the hunky male lead (played flatly by the dreadfully un-charismatic Evan peters).

Another masked monster this season on "American Horror Story: Coven"

Rubberman. Bloodyface. Minotaur. Boooooring.

The most immediately obvious fault of the show is that not a single cast member is suited to their role. With the exception of Lily Rabe, and maybe Angela Bassett, everyone is just awful. Jessica Lange is almost passable but she’s only playing the same overbearing botch she’s played in both previous seasons. It’s stale. The young girls all sleepwalk through their boring, detached dialogue and barely hold your attention between shock moments. And those are where the show really loses all grip on its genre and its themes.

Freddy, Jason, Chucky, Pinhead, Dracula, Jessica Lange, Jessica Lange, Jessica Lange…

Ryan Murphy believes in the Jackson Pollack method of horror writing. Throw all the shit you have at the wall. Whatever sticks is your plot. Just make it fit. Sadly, he thinks that singular, meaningless moments of shock and gore can fill in for true terror and suspense. In only the most recent episode, the audience is treated to incest, animal sacrifice, and an obese teenager attempting to sexually assault a mystical bull-man with a lust for blood. Not a moment on this show has proven scary. And not a single thread of ths story can be considered classically “American horror”. The title of the show is actually becoming offensive as it goes on.

Three dangerous women on "American Horror Story: Coven"

I believe I mentioned this in my review of this show’s second season, but I feel the need to repeat myself. Ryan Murphy is just terrible. it saddens me that this is apparently all cable television has to offer on the horror front, given its disrespect to the genre. Sure, networks will push things like “Supernatural”, “The Vampire Diaries”, and the even more ludicrous “The Originals” and tell you they’re horror. But they’re not. They’re prepackaged, tween-oriented trash, assembled to appeal to the lowest common denominator. The biggest draw of a horror program shouldn’t be its hunky leading men. It should be, you know, HORROR! This show has it in the title. There’s no excuse for the lack of scares and the shock-factor filler we’re subjected to. “Coven” may just be the worst transgressor yet. Go elsewhere for your horror fix. Ideally, go back about thirty years when television still had some standards.

My Rating: 3/10

Poster for FX's "American Horror Story: Coven"

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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