‘American Horror Story: Cult’ Divides Critics, ‘Frenzied Mess’ or ‘Metaphor for Trump-Induced Madness’?

“The politics of fear may work, but the twisted logic in this futile exercise falls apart quickly,” one reviewer writes

Last Updated: September 5, 2017 @ 11:37 AM

“American Horror Story” continues to be a polarizing anthology, if the first reviews of Season 7 are any indication.

“Cult,” which follows a cast of characters in a Michigan town during the aftermath of the 2016 election, is both terrifying in its depiction of paranoia and fear, and comical in how it presents current events. The over-the-top satire — a staple in Ryan Murphy’s works — is effective at times, and not at others.

“That there’s virtually no political middle ground campifies the central satire of ‘American Horror Story’s’ new season, which takes less interest in Trump or Clinton than it does in cheekily lampooning our age of political paranoia,” Jake Nevins from The Guardian wrote.

However, the satire didn’t sit well with others, who felt that poking fun at the real fears of many Americans was crossing a line. Ben Travers, of Indiewire, wrote that Sarah Paulson’s anxiety-ridden liberal mother, Ally, presented a problematic interpretation of events.

“Liberals aren’t just snowflakes with imaginary fears, and the right isn’t only made up of soulless fear-mongers. The politics of fear may work, but the twisted logic in this futile exercise falls apart quickly,” he wrote.

However, most reviewers agree that the acting is phenomenal, specially Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters, who play the two leads.

Check out some reviews below, along with TheWrap’s breakdown of “Cult’s” first three episodes.

Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times:

Manson is the ruling spirit in “Cult,” the latest installment in the Ryan Murphy-Brad Falchuk FX franchise “American Horror Story,” premiering Tuesday. Putting “American” in your title can signify seriousness or satire, to promise a defining look at how we are as a nation – for good, but more likely more for ill. Or, as in “Wet Hot American Summer,” to mock the titling itself.

Indeed, it’s something of a tired strategy. (Murphy and Falchuk also use it for their “American Crime Story” anthology series.) But “Cult,” which is set around the 2016 election in an upscale Michigan suburb, is specific about its state-of-the-nation intentions, adapting a Manson-esque scenario for the Age of Trump. “Cult” seems meant to describe a sort of political support as well as the narrative business of the story.

Ben Travers, Indiewire:

It’s not hard to see how Ryan Murphy arrived at his premise for “AHS” Season 7. To say that many Americans have been living out their own personal horror story isn’t an overstatement — not with border closings, hate speech, and potential treason all enabled by the White House — but the new season manages to undermine the left’s legitimate fears and amplify the right’s monstrous traits all in one frenzied mess of an allegory.

Jen Chaney, Vulture:

But the most clever aspect of ‘American Horror Story: Cult’ ... is the use of Ally’s trauma as a metaphor for the Trump-induced madness many Americans experience on a daily basis. Ally is either delusional or she’s being gaslighted, convinced that things she sees are not necessarily there. That’s precisely how plenty of Americans feel when they listen to the commander-in-chief blatantly lie on national television, then hear some pundit declare that he just became “presidential,” or Trump’s Instagram feed announces that he witnessed “first hand [sic] the horror and devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey” beneath an image of him merely looking at a screen. It’s understandable that Ally, not to mention the rest of us, are starting to think there’s some sort of conspiracy at work to make us question our own eyes and ears.

Jake Nevins, The Guardian:

It’s unsurprising, given Murphy’s theatrical sensibilities, that the reactions to Trump’s victory are characterized by opposites Ally and Kai, one a fragile and frightful leftist, the other an eldritch lone wolf exalting in the insurgent chaos of Trump’s victory. That there’s virtually no political middle ground campifies the central satire of American Horror Story’s new season, which takes less interest in Trump or Clinton than it does in cheekily lampooning our age of political paranoia. “There is nothing more dangerous in this world than a humiliated man,” Kai, who assaults a group of migrant workers with a urine-filled condom, remarks in a ham-handed monologue before the city council.

Hank Stuever, Washington Post:

It would be nice to be able to declare all of this to be a brilliant and timely effort to process our world, but “Cult” brings with it many of the problems that have plagued past seasons of “American Horror Story.” The show has never been known for its restraint, favoring a fire-ready-aim approach to storytelling that causes a typical season to swerve from episodes that are disturbingly wonderful to episodes that seem like time-consuming detours.

Nuance is never a factor when Murphy and his team are at their most unhinged; the only selling point is the show’s constant cleverness and commitment to form. They never worry about laying things on too thick; consequently, “American Horror Story” always lays things on too thick, which gets tiresome for anyone who wanted a story instead of a carnival ride.

Bill Keveney, USA Today:

Give ‘Cult’ credit for trying to connect with the current cultural mood. though it offers over-the-top stereotyping of both sides as well as spot-on insight. And even if the constant door-banging (what, no doorbells?) stops giving you the intended jitters, such horror-trope winks might still provide a laugh.

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