8 November 2014 | jwoods1997
"American Horror Story: Freak Show" Review – Season Four, Episode One "Monsters Among Us"
The premiere episode of FX's anthologized drama American Horror Story: Freak Show proved itself to be a terrifying tour de force worthy of all the praise it has thus far received.
The hour-long spectacle introduces us into the world of a menagerie of freak show performers settling down in the "sleepy" town of Jupiter, Florida in 1952. Elsa Mars, the eccentric ringleader of the show, works to obtain custody of Siamese twins Bette and Dot Tattler after their recent hospitalization and involvement in a crime, as tiny interval's reveal the everyday lives of the performers. Meanwhile, a demented clown makes his rounds around town, terrorizing and brutally murdering the townsfolk of the hamlet.
Captivating its audience with an engaging plot full of intrigue, complex characters, and haunting cinematography, "Monsters Among Us" aptly makes good use of it's title by revealing the sordid affairs of the freaks and "regular" people alike against an unsuspecting 1950's backdrop. The plot flows swimmingly, keeping a not-too-slow and not-too-fast pace which establishes the characters while keeping its freakish feel throughout; this sense of unease permeates throughout Freak Show's premiere, which guarantees fans a dark tone for the upcoming season.
The aforementioned Mars, a yearning but past her prime superstar wannabee, is dominated by the spectacular Jessica Lange, who brings the character's kooky and cunning, yet totally human, nature to life. Evan Peters is charming as "Lobster Boy" Jimmy Darling, a James Dean-esque bad boy with a heart of gold who oozes confidence and sex appeal. Yet Sarah Paulson's portrayal of the Tattler twins is truly an amazing feat for the actress, who brilliantly deciphers the characters of disquiet Dot and bubbly Bette, turning both into unique characters. Other main players who don't have much screen time in this episode, including bearded lady Ethel Darling (Kathy Bates), dutiful mother Gloria Mott (Frances Conroy) and her man-child son Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock) show to be interesting and well-acted in their own right. Even bit players, such as the milkman (Wilson Bradford) and Penny the Candy Striper (Grace Gummer), play their roles to perfection. Of course, no review would be complete without mentioning John Caroll Lynch's terrifying portrayal of clown killer Twisty, a gargantuan monstrosity whose method of stalking victims is as scary as the face he dons.
From a purely stylistic standpoint, "Monsters" is a true beauty. Vivid scenery and rich colors invade each happening on screen, captured by a wide-angled lens which works to align the characters sense of suspense with that of the viewers. A perplexing theremin-sounding track plays throughout the episodes more serious scenes, adding a retro sci-fi feeling to the show, while typical golden oldies play throughout the episodes more relaxed parts. The mixing of the visual and auditory aspects works to present the audience with a truly authentic 50's period piece.
Overall, "Monsters Among Us" is a true delight that serves as an excellent introduction into the newest world of the AHS universe. Steady pacing, cut-throat characterization, and pristine cinematography all work together to make this an exceptionally well-crafted episode. Ideas regarding abnormality are present throughout, begging the audience to ponder what makes one "normal" versus what makes one a "freak". This, along with several other important themes, sets American Horror Story: Freak Show apart from many works in the horror genre – it has a heart, regardless of how soul-shattering said heart might be.