'American Horror Story: Double Feature' Is a Super Creepy, Mysterious Return to Form
It's like 'The Shining,' plus bloodthirsty creatures with razor-sharp teeth.
Fans of American Horror Story are some of the most cult-like in TV, and they've had to be really patient for the show's 10th season. Not only did the pandemic delay the landmark installment to come two years after AHS: 1984, cult leader/showrunner Ryan Murphy rarely revealed details about what to expect of the season mysteriously dubbed Double Feature. Teaser images of razor-sharp teeth and news that the show was in production in Massachusetts sent the internet ablaze in theories, but until the trailer dropped, it was pretty unclear where the long-running anthology was headed.
Thankfully, the show feels like a return to form for the series—taking a classic horror tale and remixing it in that campy, twisted AHS way that makes the show so fun. Recent seasons were watchable, but didn't feel as original as early installments (1984 being almost too campy, Cult being too on-the-nose, and Apocalypse, although great, was basically a crossover event for devout fans). This season, the show is going for a direct homage to The Shining—except it's not a haunted building driving the madness, it's evil bloodsuckers lurking around town, shady pill popping, and cannibalistic cravings. (At least the first half of the season, since it's split into two stories called "Red Tide" and "Death Valley," which will almost certainly connect in some way.)
The first two episodes, "Cape Fear" and "Pale," premiered on Wednesday, August 25 and are now streaming on Hulu, and it starts off as a story we've seen before: Harry and Doris Gardner (Finn Wittrock, Lily Rabe) and their daughter Alma (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) are relocating to a creepy house in town that's not at all what it seems. They end up in eerie Provincetown, Massachusetts, where they plan to spend the winter at a dreary house for free because Doris won a contest from the homeowners to redesign the interior during their stay. While Doris carries out her pregnancy and works on flipping the house, screenwriter Harry plans to finish his pilot, and their violin prodigy daughter hopes to practice.
Although the house is creepy, the weird vibes really start to kick in when everybody ventures into town. At the grocery store, Harry has a run-in with so-called Tuberculosis Karen (Sarah Paulson in her most transformational AHS role since Hotel's Sally), who the store clerk says is a harmless "nutter." She warns Harry to "get out of town before they munch" on his bones—so it's already clear the one person in town who everybody has written off is the only one aware of what's going on, or at least willing to recognize it.
We get a look at who "they" are when Doris and Alma go for a casual stroll through the cemetery where they're chased by a pale man with sharp teeth and a Frankenstein-like demeanor. When they tell the police chief (Adina Porter), she seems bizarrely unconcerned and blames opioid addicts, but the Pale People are fixated on the Gardners' house. Harry is particularly concerned, having read about the "animalistic" unsolved murders of a family nearby—and especially after he sees bodies washed up on the shore with their insides ripped out.
We continue to get a feel of the town's decidedly off vibes when Harry goes out to dinner. There, we finally meet Macaulay Culkin's character, the flirtatious bar regular Mickey, and Evan Peters and Frances Conroy's characters, playwright Austin Summers and romance novelist Sarah Cunningham (pen name Belle Noir), who similarly stay in Provincetown to focus on work for the winter. They feel like kindred spirits to Harry, but if only he had the creativity and work ethic they had to solve his writer's block.
Obviously, their artistic charisma is not just the product of sheer talent, though: A shot of Belle in bed with Mickey reveals she sucks his blood in exchange for a few hundred bucks, and the darkest moment of the two episodes shows a very distraught Karen bringing Belle a baby to feast on in order to get a quick drug fix. But when Austin invites Harry over to talk writing, we learn they're not necessarily vampires. Austin has a mysterious stash of black pills that bring out creative genius (and cannibalistic desires).
Although hesitant, Austin takes one and churns out an entire script, impressing his agent Ursula (Leslie Grossman). His skill doesn't come without a cost. Now, he's angry (telling his daughter, "Don't be jealous because I found inspiration and you can't play fucking Paginini") and thirsty for blood (including his own wife's). The two devilish (yet fabulous, obviously) cannibals invite him into their circle, fix him up with a pair of fangs from a tattoo artist/dentist they're in cahoots with (Billie Lourd), and suddenly he's bound for greatness in the form of a picked up, Joaquin Phoenix-starring pilot and Netflix deal.
Thus far, it's looking like a horror story about addiction and the cost of greatness. What the show seems to be on the precipice of revealing is what happens when those black pills fall into the wrong hands—like Mickey and Karen and tiny Alma, who just wants to master that Paginini concerto. Based on the final shot of her gnawing on a rodent over the crave, much to Doris' horror, the answer is probably not good! Perhaps we'll learn all of the animalistic humanoids around town developed a taste for those pills that they took a bit too far. Wherever the mysterious season goes, there's definitely plenty of reasons to already be hooked.