If you’re anything like me, you’re a fan of the horror genre. So as you can expect, when American Horror Story announced that they were signed on for a seventh season, I was filled with excitement. It was only when creator Ryan Murphy announced that the theme would take influence from the most recent election that I realized that this season could perhaps be the most terrifying of them all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the election that I would find the most terrifying per say, but what the election would represent for the rest of the show.
American Horror Story: Cult begins on the night of the election (when undoubtedly many Americans were surprised by the announcement that Donald Trump would be America’s next president). Ally, a progressivist mother who has a history of anxiety disorders, can be heard within the first five minutes of the show screaming at the television set. In contrast Evan Peter’s character, Kai, can be seen acting triumphant as he is clearly pleased with the result of the election. Two completely different reactions that will pave the way for the rest of the season. I will be referencing other parts of this show for the remainder of the article so consider yourself spoiler warned.
So let’s begin to break this season down and figure out why chills run faster down my this season over any other season. First, and perhaps most important, is that this season, unlike all other seasons, is completely devoid of supernatural forces meaning that there are no ghosts, no demons, no devils. For a show that usually gets its kicks out of the paranormal, this is a major and crucial change. While I am most certainly one to believe that ghosts and such exist (a personal opinion), the fact that this season lacks such forces implies that everything that happens this season could be done today by a person as real as you and me. This implies that the murder that takes place at the end of the first episode, however gruesome, was performed by another human being that has feelings and, to make it more personal and perhaps relevant, has an opinion on the outcome of the election.
The election, the second factor that makes this season so terrifying. The fact that this season was based around in a very real event that was both recent and salient allows this story to be grounded in a place that is more non-fictitious than fiction. Because we all remember this specific event, there is a place in our mind where we are led to believe that, because this event actually did happen, perhaps in a small, sleepy Michigan town this terrifying event happened too. This base in reality is quite different than, for example, season one where a random family moved to a random new house thats haunted. With Cult, however, the viewer remembers being at a viewing party where he or she realized, much like Ally, that the person they voted for would not become president and, in many ways, the viewer relates to Ally.
Speaking of Ally, this character in and of herself is a major factor as to why this season could very well be the most terrifying. Ally, as I mentioned earlier, has previously suffered from debilitating anxiety disorders, as shown within the first fifteen minutes of the show when she glances at a “Twisty the Clown” comic book and collapses to her knees in fear. While Ally’s extreme coulrophobia, which is the irrational fear of clowns, may be too extreme for the everyday viewer to relate to, many Americans do feel a sense of fear when confronted with clowns. From Pennywise the dancing clown to the clowns that terrorized small towns across the country last year, we have been told that clowns, while made for the purpose of enjoyment, should be feared. This is a natural disposition as it has been psychologically proven that looking at a face with an unnatural smile for an extended period of time will cause the viewer to be uneasy and wary of the smiler. This being said Ally, also has trypophobia, which is the irrational fear of holes, a fear that many people have without even realizing they have it (if you don’t know whether or not you have it, google it and you’ll be able to tell within five minutes [chances are you probably have it]). Because Ally has this fear, the camera oftentimes zooms in on images of clustered holes, making the viewer right away feel both repulsed and scared, along with Ally. There are also a host of other phobias that are common among the American population including the fear of oozing blood which I’m sure will come into play later in the season. By doing this, the director is allowing the viewer to relate to Ally on a deeper level than any other American Horror Story character because, as Kai stated in the premiere episode, fear is the most influential form of power. When you share fears with someone, you begin to feel connected with them and, when something scary happens to them, something scary happens to you. Ally has all of these phobias so that the viewer who perhaps does not have a fear of clowns but rather fears dismembered body parts can relate to her on some level and then feel the fear when she feels fear. This psychological horror is extremely inventive and not something I have seen many times before in the horror genre oftentimes lead by general characters who are difficult to make a connection with. This is also not to mention how helpless Ally feels when her wife, Ivy, begins doubting her, claiming that she is hallucinating. This feeling of hopelessness when faced without fears is something that many people are oftentimes more afraid of than the triggering fear to begin with.
Put all of these factors together and you have a story that is physically real without supernatural forces, grounded in an actual event, and led by a character who not only understands our deepest fears, but is effected by the very things that affect us, is paralyzed by the very things that paralyze us. American Horror Story Cult is so terrifying because of its ability to convey the idea that, even though it is merely a television show, there is no reason that it could not be happening right now to us, with our very fears.
Needless to say this season is going to be wildly different and innovative and I, for one, am excited to see how Ryan Murphy and his cast twist my fears into a terrifying reality.