Thursday, June 16, 2016

Review: American Horror Story: Hotel

Title: American Horror Story: Hotel
Starring: Kathy Bates, Wes Bentley, Lady Gaga, Matt Bomer
Language: English
Genre: Horror, Drama, Thriller, Mystery
Episodes: 12

Welcome to another installment of Ryan Murphy having amazing ideas, but doesn't know what to do with them. Better known as the American Horror Story franchise! I have covered my least favorite season, the season that got a little better, but had some missteps and annoying/unnecessary characters, and one that fell flat after a certain character died and we were stuck with a lot of annoying characters and boring plot. I even covered one of Murphy's newer projects with plans to review another show he put his hands in by the name of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Am obsessed with the man's work? Not really. I'm just very critical and cynical at this point as I continue to power through new installments of AHS.

The story takes place in 2015 in Los Angeles, California in the haunted, retro Hotel Cortez which was built to become a torture chamber for the customers by the founder James Patrick March. The wardens of the hotel includes the 111 year old vampire, Elizabeth Johnson, and the front desk clerk and manager, Iris. The residents include the drug addicted prostitute ghost, Sally McKenna; Iris' hateful son and former drug addict turned vampire lover of Elizabeth, Donovan; and transgender bartender Liz Taylor and later some unsuspecting guests. When Detective John Lowe checks in to the hotel, what he doesn't know is that he is targeted by a serial murderer, The Ten Commandments Killer, which will bring the inside and outside danger crashing together. [Source: Wikipedia, Modified by: Suzahiru Miko]

If you know my track record (or just recently checked it out above), I haven't had the best of experiences with the American Horror Story franchise. My expectations were pretty high after the first season as I really enjoyed the concept and characters, but over time, the quality has been very inconsistent from season to season. I'm sure I'm going to get some unhappy comments with this review, but I expect them. All I have to say is: "Bring it on!". Before I start groaning and complaining, I want to touch on the high points of this past season. As much as Jessica Lange was being praised season after season for the same bitchy/diva persona, I was elated that she didn't sign on for this fifth installment. She isn't a terrible actress, but she's clearly typecasted or at least is playing the same character in a different outfit and setting, which increasingly tries to plead for sympathy from its viewers, especially in AHS: Freakshow. This time we have Lady Gaga taking the spotlight as the "diva" of the Hotel Cortez. Going into this season, I was once again cautious, but admittedly a bit excited because of the minor cast change. The promo helped a little too. Gaga + Rammstein = Win! Sure, many of the previous cast members were making their usual return such as Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Denis O'Hare, and Finn Wittrock, but I was happy to see that Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett would be returning as well. They definitely made a place for themselves in AHS: Coven and their performances were consistent for the most part in AHS: Freakshow. They're both the most seasoned actresses from the bunch, so higher expectations.

Upon the first couple or so episodes, I felt a slight uneasiness with the story. For now, I'll focus on the overall positive elements of the story. Like the previous installments to this franchise, Murphy provides some great and interesting ideas with stunning visuals. AHS: Hotel is no exception. Majority of the time, I enjoyed looking at The Shining inspired hotel set and some of the horror elements. Also like the previous seasons, there are multiple subplots going on simultaneously linking back to the main storyline. Naturally, there were ones that worked better than others, but I'll delve into that soon. Subplots or story elements I enjoyed following, for the most part, were The Countess' imperfect, but perfect relationship with Donovan and Detective John Lowe's investigation of the Ten Commandments Killer. The Countess and Donovan, right off the bat, had an intriguing relationship as they seduced their victims and drained them of life in the most arousing and satisfying manner that made me enjoy the act of the hunt. Some of their disagreements made me enjoy their chemistry more and more over time and a lot of the time I wish their relationship was given more care. As for the Ten Commandments Killer, I constantly complained that there was not enough screen time dedicated to this subplot, during the first half of the series. The investigation kept me into the season, until the Murphy complex happened.

I think Murphy has a type, don't you think? lol
I know I had a hard time telling them apart a lot of the time.

What is the Murphy Complex you ask? It's when Ryan Murphy's ego gets in the way of his great ideas and instead of picking out the best ones and giving his whole heart and focus to them, he dumps all the ideas together and it becomes a complete mess!

Starting off with the cast once more, it was nice to see some of the cast from previous seasons return, but some of their characters were kinda...meh. Sally McKenna (Paulson) was an interesting character with a decent tragic backstory of glamour and drug abuse. Of course, with fame and drugs comes cliches. There was also this problem of her character doing things that I didn't feel her character would do. It was confusing and a little annoying and I didn't care for her relationship with Detective Lowe that much toward the later half of the season. Iris (Bates) played a good mother role, full of confrontations and hesitation concerning her son Donovan and his relationship with The Countess, but I must admit that more than half the time Iris was on screen is practically Bates chewing scenery like a pro! James Patrick March (Peters) was supposed to be this charming and intimidating hotel owner with an insatiable bloodlust that often time played like a poor man's Johnny Depp from Ed Wood. He was over the top, corny, and there were too many horror cliches thrown into this character that none of his personality traits proved to be convincing. Liz Taylor (O'Hare) was a good moral compass for Detective Lowe and I admit I enjoyed their conversations at the bar and even his love affair Tristan (Wittock), but sometimes I felt annoyed by his presence. Kinda that feeling that he's shoved in for diversity or something. I know Murphy is gay and O'Hare is too, but I don't know...the trans aspect seemed off balance or not thought out as well as I would like. I'm not sure how to explain it. Tristan's existence annoyed me as he just came off as a whiny brat that didn't know what he wanted and kept begging for attention from not only anyone who would listen to him on the show, but from the audience as well. Honestly, I'm kinda tired of seeing Wittock's smug face in AHS, so give me a little break from him, please! Chloë Sevigny as Detective Lowe's wife and Bassett's Ramona felt like wasted characters. A lot of the time I felt like they were just placed in scenes so they would have something to do, but they were basically corner pieces trying to fit in the center of a puzzle, which is unfortunate. Also, the scenes featuring real life serial killers of the past was kinda hit or miss. Most notably, Charlize Theron did a better job as Aileen Wuornos than Lily Rabe, but maybe Rabe was feeling mopey after hearing the cancellation of The Whispers or something. Who knows... In short, the story is overflowing with characters that kept getting added to the plot and continually gave me that deep sinking feeling that AHS: Asylum graciously bestowed upon me.

Now for the part where Murphy's ego shines: the story clutter. As much as I enjoyed the Ten Commandments Killer subplot, we really didn't need another random serial killer running around the hotel, especially one as ridiculous as a monster with a drill bit dildo. Seriously, guys, you've gone from serious to cheesy! Save that for Scream Queens, Mr. Murphy. Fortunately, the story mostly forgets about this dumb nuisance, but at the same time ruins what I enjoyed about the Ten Commandments Killer investigation. The reveal was both cliche and out of nowhere! I have no idea how you can manage pulling both of those feats off, but Mr. Murphy found a way. If you're curious what I mean, you just have to watch the show to understand. There's also a lot of flip-flopping with some of the cast's actions and just unnecessary decision making. Gaga is clearly one of the best parts of this show, but even her character was given some convoluted, idiotic nonsense: her outside relationships from Donovan, her past with Ramona, and complicated romantic ties with James March. As annoying as at least half of her story was, it was amusing to have this ongoing joke with Ophelia about who or what Gaga's going to be wearing, eating, or sleeping with that night. On top of that, we had the constant merry go round of lovers and bad jump scares and gore trying to get reaction from me, but just cluttered the story or came off flat. So many characters die and come back for usually no reason but to take up space. The story really had a bad case of the "Asylum" syndrome: The Countess' countless lovers, Donovan and his mother bickering, Tristan's sexuality crisis, Ramona's revenge, a fashion designer purchasing the Hotel Cortez, March's dinner table of serial killers, Detective's Lowe struggling to balance his inner demons, investigation, and family life; various ghosts living throughout the hotel, and a kajillion other subplots that exist for a short period of time that don't even matter! On top of that, I had a very difficult time trying to figure out what year we were in because of the props, setting, clothing, and historical backstory. Don't even get me started on them trying to tie this back to previous seasons by featuring elements from AHS: Murder House and introducing Queenie and Billie Dean Howard from AHS: Coven into the mix. It's just a disaster!

American Horror Story: Hotel made not only myself, but Ophelia question why we keep up with this show knowing that it'll be a trainwreck. But trainwrecks have their visual appeal and I just keep hoping that Ryan Murphy will learn how to declutter his ideas to make something great like the first season. Usually more for him is a terrible idea. While it had some interesting and sometimes intriguing characters and some promising horror ideas and subplots, the over abundance of characters, poor execution of horror and shock value, unnecessary and sometimes lengthy sex scenes, and muddled storylines just ruined the overall experience of what AHS: Hotel had to offer us. I know, I know, I probably ruffled some feathers by complaining so much about this fifth installment, but I also know that I'm not alone in the groaning department either. Unfortunately (or fortunately for Ryan Murphy), I most likely will be tuning into the upcoming sixth season, whatever that may be, with caution. I don't doubt my frustrations with his creative horror abilities will fade, but it really makes me want to rewrite the script for AHS: Hotel and make it closer to a masterpiece that it should be.

Rating: 3/5

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