Another Hollyweird product I won’t be watching.
From IGN: Putting dangerous witches, sexy vampires and demonic nuns on hold, American Horror Story: Cult pulls back the curtain to explore the psychological aftermath from the 2016 presidential campaign.
Fear and anxiety take center stage here, pitting Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters against each other in a perverse tale of progress and paranoia. Season 7 puts the cult of personality directly in the spotlight, revealing that the real monster in this horror story is us. After viewing the first three episodes of Cult — titled “Election Night,” “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and “Neighbors from Hell” — at an advance press screening, it’s safe to say that this move is a welcome change for the series.
Using the 2016 presidential campaign — election night, specifically — as a jumping off point, it’s clear from the very first moments of AHS: Cult that fear is the main component giving the new season life. Fear is currency; it’s the motivator and the separator. In Cult, it feeds the fire of rising cult figure, Kai Anderson (Peters), and pushes phobia-ridden Ally Mayfair Richards (Paulson) to her psychological breaking point.
“I do think politics in the past year has become entertainment in a weird way in our country, and I think this plays into that a little bit,” Ryan Murphy stated during a Q&A session that followed the screening. “I think how the show begins on election night, pro or con … I think everybody can relate to that feeling of that evening. And that was the launch of the season.”
While there are many players in the “AHS: Cult” game — Alison Pill is Ally’s wife Ivy, Billie Lourd is Kai’s sister Winter, and Billy Eichner and Leslie Grossman are creepy neighbors, The Wiltons — it’s the dynamic between Kai and Ally that elevate the story in a way many fans may not expect. “It’s not about Trump, it’s not about Clinton,” Murphy continued. “It’s about somebody who has the wherewithal to put their finger up in the wind, see what’s happening and is using that to rise up and form power.”
For Kai Anderson, the election of Donald Trump is a watershed moment — leading the blue-haired maniac on a quest for power. According to Murphy, he has wanted to explore The Manson Family in an installment of AHS for quite some time. But as the writer/director/executive producer explained, this concept has since evolved: “The thing that we’re doing is we’re really examining all different sorts of cults — and there are many, many famous ones. Throughout the season, Evan Peters is, I think, playing six different cult leaders: Kai, Manson, David Koresh, Andy Warhol … Jim Jones is a big one. And we really examine, how do those people rise to power? And why did people follow them?”
On the opposite side of the spectrum is Ally and Ivy — a Michigan couple living a comfortable existence steeped in success and a heaping helping of white privilege. That detail is played upon multiple times throughout Cult, showing that both sides of the Trump/Clinton argument are fair game. From a Rachel Maddow shoutout to some residual Jill Stein-rage, there are elements of satire throughout these first three episodes that help to alleviate the real world pain and anxiety people are still experiencing.
But Ally’s storyline of how her phobias are manifesting — particularly her coulrophobia, or fear of clowns — is an affective and terrifying way of keeping the horror in American Horror Story. In many ways, this season isn’t about an American horror story, but what Murphy considers to be our American horror story, showcasing both sides of the election’s aftermath in their extremes.
“One of the things that I personally experienced after this election was a wild increase in anxiety,” Murphy explained. “We’re on the brink of nuclear war one week, and then, the next week we’re onto something else equally extreme.” Instead of burying his head in the sand, though, Murphy decided to use AHS as a means to deal with this new reality; to, in his words: “lean into the escalation of fear in our culture.”
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