Quick Take: American Horror Story, “Welcome to Briarcliff”
"What you put out in the world comes back to you." - Grace
Review: American Horror Story, “Welcome to Briarcliff”
(S0201) If fans of cancelled shows have learned anything, it’s that it only takes one scene, nay, one line to polarize an audience. Though American Horror Story is structured around contained, single-season arcs designed to make the most out of the vast horror genre while always remaining open to new viewers, I’m not quite sure if they’ll be coming back after Asylum. Actually, scratch that – I don’t think they’ll be able to top it.
The miniseries-styled anthology began with the story of a haunted house, sticking to a familiar, but no less comforting mythology of vengeful spirits and the birth of the anti-Christ. With Season Two, we’re brought to the Church-helmed mental institution Briarcliff Manor, home of the infamous serial killer, Bloody Face, and perhaps even more violent secrets.
Present day: the lead singer of Maroon Five and his hot-for-horror wife are plugging their way through their haunted honeymoon, about to christen a restraining chair in the old asylum when they hear a noise. Unfazed by the building’s alleged history, they investigate: he gets his arm ripped off, she meets Bloody Face. But as we flash back to the nineteen sixties, we see that Bloody Face didn’t always run around wearing human flesh before Hannibal made it popular. In fact, he was a pretty well-adjusted gas bar attendant named Kit Walker, played by one of the show’s several returning cast members, Evan Peters.
Then the aliens came.
You did not misread. If ever there was a more polarizing mix of horror elements, please tell me. The inevitable clash between science and faith often tends towards the religious side in the horror genre, supplying a weighted reality ruled by devils and demons. Granted, the threat of incorporeal evil is much more frightening to most people than aliens, (which is why M Night Shyamalan’s Signs is a much better movie if you consider the creatures as demons instead of extraterrestrials), but it’s yet to be presented where these two evils – as above, so below – co-exist.
Being set inside the oppressively religious institution provides ample contrast for the ideologies of the devious brain scientist Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), the pious but tempted Sister Jude (Jessica Lange in another beautifully sadistic role), and Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes) who stands above, yet between them as the asylum’s founder. But none of their philosophies could have dreamt that there was more than just heaven and earth.
From Kit’s perspective we see the abduction of the wife he is accused of murdering, and then from Dr. Arden’s we see the electro-organic implant that comes alive when he pulls it out of Kit’s neck, so there doesn’t seem to be much room to wiggle in an argument for the aliens not being real. That being said, there is plenty of story yet to develop, and the first episode of Asylum made it more than clear that anything can happen. Anyone care to wager what Dr Arden’s flesh-eating something is?