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Month: November 2016

Don’t Breathe (2016)

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Panic In Detroit

A weird mix of Alone In The Dark, The Bling Ring and a Natascha Kampusch biopic, Don’t Breathe is considered good because ir is, for his perilous high concept, far less worse than most other flicks in the “home invasion” sub-genre. Still, it is far from great. Starting on an opening plan reminiscent of Dawn Of The Dead (remade) and of course The Shining, the movie swiftly exposes said high concept as follows:

A thoroughly unprepared suicide squad of burglars conceive the brilliant project to rob a blind guy who just got a lot of money in court, said their unreliable snitch, since another one of their botched jobs just went down the drain. Please meet Alex (Dylan Minette, distractedly handsome and not a great actor for drama) and Rocky (Jane Levy, looking a bit like Reese Witherspoon used to, and quite good in spite of her “I promise you California” dialogue). Only option left is therefore to go for the blind man (Stephen Lang), but there’s a catch: he’s an army veteran with a shady past. Blissfully obvious of that fact, our sexy losers enter the house and to say that they are not welcome would be gilding the lily.

Fede Alvarez (previously: the Evil Dead remake) has a flair for suspense and a good eye for fluidity, as demonstrated in a CGI-enhanced Argento moment from the the ground floor of the house to under the landlord’s bed. He pulls off some good scenes along the way, like the intrusion of an attack dog in an airduct, ot the way poor Rocky’s bashing is filmed in a single, distant large frame. The villain’s “I’m not a rapist!” scene is good too, and surprisingly bitter in such a context; and as far as movie quotes go, his three minute remake of Cujo is perfectly decent.

On the other hand, he’s in a bit of a pickle remembering his villain’s infirmity. Yes, he’s blind most of the time, but on convenient occasions he’s also deaf, not to mention mute. He’s far from paralytic at least, as he repeatedly captures the heroes, only to let them escape a few minutes later. Uncomfortably good at its most claustrophobic moments, Don’t Breathe requires its heroes not to move or react in any way, a bit like Alvarez imagine his subjugated audience.

Yet, it is hard not to giggle at times. The movie proudly displays what must be the most unsafe safe ever filmed, and the plot twist in the basement will require all suspension of disbelief you are able to muster. Advice to revenge kidnappers everywhere: in case you intend to impregnate your basement protégée, always keep a jar of your semen at hand, even if she’s already two months pregnant. Who knows, other opportunities may occur… Sequel unavoidable.

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The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)

 

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From Hell

We reviewed Oz Perkins’ second opus, I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House, earlier this month, and its was so good it made one eager to see his first, The Blackcoat’s Daughter (also for some reason titled February in some markets), a little bit concerned, too, that it wouldn’t be that good. Well, if it weren’t for a more liberal use of gore, this movie is a perfect companion piece for its predecessor. Perkins has a unique eye, a Lynchean ear for soundscape and a voice of his own. From his debut as a director (he was a screenwriter and yes, an actor to begin with), his peculiar brand of malaise and dread conquers the screen. From his first scene and his first dialogue, really, all diffuse awkwardness and suffocating framing. An author is born and so far his œuvre is impeccable.

The plot oscillates between three college girls during a bitterly cold winter break. All students are gone to their family but Kate and Rose, whose parents have been delayed or worse. Completing the triangle is Joan (Emma Roberts, brooding and fast becoming a regular in this blog), hitchicking her way from the hospital she woke up in to the city near the school, relying on the kindness of stranger to horrific consequences. Being her senior, Rose is tasked to keep an eye on Kate, as only a skeleton crew of two nuns remains on the premises.

Rose (Lucy Boynton, playing the ghost in Pretty Thing, here with dark hair and a meatier role) is pregnant but don’t want her boyfriend to have anything to do with terminating the pregnancy. She considers Kate’s minding a chore so she enjoy scaring her with stories of the nuns being bald and worshipping Satan in the basement. The idea is ill-advised, as Kate (Kiernan Shipka, Don Draper’s daughter in Mad Men, impressive playing the part of a black hole) is seriously unhinged and spooky to a rare degree: “They’re not coming, they’re dead.”, she flatly says out of the blue. Is she asserting herself the mean way teenagers do, did she have a vision of sorts? Why is she suddenly obsessed by the school principal, to the point of wanting nothing more than living with him at the school?

After a meticulous build-up of dense atmosphere, something happens to Kate when she’s alone in her room. That thing is utterly shocking and defies the laws of Nature: we have entered the realm of possession. Kate receives a phone call from the unknown and she starts seing a dark silhouette lurking in corners. “You smell pretty”, she says Rose, conveying a sense of menace close to inspire panic in the viewer.

Meanwhile, Joan has accepted food and shelter from a good Samaritan (James Remar, making very uneasy to believe in goodwill). She reminds him of his lost daughter. The guy’s wife (Lauren Holly, making the best of two scenes inside a car) has another, much scarier version of the story. “It’s strange, I can’t see you at all.” she tells Joan, in one of those terrifying moments Perkins seems to be able to summon out of thin air. The weather takes a turn for the worse, forecasting the merciless way plot is about to unfold, or rather to fold upon itself, not leaving any hope for anyone involved.

Two of the girls will die, one in a remarkably effective way, reminding both Psycho and some of the cruellest of Argento’s murder pieces. After the police’s intervention, the third will remain in the school, her bloody offerings displayed in the basement’s boiler room. You know as well as one does that going down to the basement is never a good idea. This movie will make you wish you never have to get into any boiler room. One mentioned gore, rest assured it is kept at a low level. The gore is never what makes a movie frightening. But that car scene and that boiler room, they are straight from hell. Viewing a must.

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The Crown #3: Windsor

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Much Ado About Nothing

Titled after the Duke of the same name, travelling back from his American exile to attend his late brother the King’s funeral, episode 3 is all about palace intrigues and pet peeves. His Royal Highness is hated by his mother, his sister-in-law and part of the people alike since he abdicated to live in the New World with an American triple divorcee, she-the-name-of-which-can-not-be-told. The arrival of Windsor in London (including The best image of the series so far at the Southampton deck) further complicates the Buckingham Palace situation, as we now have three queens and two kings to deal with: it’s not a monarchy anymore, it’s a poker game.

Quite legitimately, the Prince Consort feels a bit out of his depth in this regal tournament. Following his scheming uncle’s advice, he pressures his wife to have the name Mountbatten officially attached to the Crown of England. This subplot allows an unvolontarily hilarious scene: after Lord Mountbatten, depicted as a old fart delirious with power, toasts a bit prematurely his success after one more hunting scene, the Prince Of Hannover rushes to his grant-aunt (or something), Queen Mary and spill the beans. Clutching her 45 rings of pearls, the Queen Mother asks, in shock “You were drinking champagne the day after my son’s funeral?”. Priceless.

Queen Elizabeth has grown far from the tomboy she appears to have been in a golden hued, corgi-ed flashback, climbing trees with Princess Margaret. She’s very much in love with her dashing husband and ready to fulfill his every wish, from the Mountbatten name to keeping residence in Clarence House instead of gloomy, chilly Buckingham Palace. She indeed, pardon my French, appears quite a scatterbrain in this episode, finally accepting, over luncheon, advice from the man she professed to despise thirty minutes earlier. The Queen, however, is not fooled by Churchill’s reluctance to accelerate her coronation: as long as she’s not officially on the throne, he remains in power.

Considering it takes half an hour to Sir Winston to extract himself from his Rolls-Royce, climb a staircase clutching his cane as if it were his last straw, then scoffs when the Sovereign invites the Prime Minister to have a seat, in ignorance of the customs set by her great-great-grandmother, do not expect bullet time action. The characters of the piece still exchange languishing conversations about the way certain breeds of dogs yap more they bark or find time, in times of national crisis, to fondly remember the duck à l’orange served in a particular castle. The Windsor more and more resemble the Adams family, all clad in mourning and in complete disconnection from reality.

The writers, if they have reasonable command of the English particular brand of venomous witticism, still rely heavily on their long, meaningful look trick. This time, when six year old Elizabeth listens to Windsor’s allocution on the radio (the ex-King’s speech, if you will), seems to be preternaturally able to see what the future has in store for her. She wanted to live a simple life, see, or so she confesses to Churchill, with all the “Yes I am a Queen, but I’m also a woman” proper trimmings. Yes Elizabeth, the Queen is a woman, but that woman is the Queen. How royally f***ed your life is.

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Wiener Dog (2016)

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What If This Is Art? What Then?

Dogs must be the most straightforward animals on Earth. They like you or they don’t, mostly if they have trained to be suspicious of strangers or if they have been mistreated in the past. If you feed them, pat them, they love you for it. Should one become your dog, this love will be unconditional, till death do you part. It’s easy to see what appealed to Todd Solondz in this straightforwardness, a matter-of-fact approach to human interaction blending well with his absurdist point of view. For dogs, we human must be inscrutable ciphers, forever engaged in weird activities, when a plate a food, a ray of sun, a twig or a good belly rub are so utterly satisfying.

Wiever Dog tells the tale of said dog, rescued from a shelter by the father of a child having survived a grave illness, then rescued again, donated, lost and found. She’s the glue between typical Solondz vignettes, heralding weird characters and broken lives. It’s very funny at times; during the rest of the movie it kinda lays there, waiting for the next conundrum to arise, only to be solved by a punchline or a manifestation of fate. This is, in other words, not great storytelling, to use the title of a previous Solondz movie.

The best part is the beginning, with the suburban family composed of a decent child actor, John Lithgow (whom one never gets tired praising) and Julie Delpy as the sweetest monster of a mother there ever was. She has a line for the ages when she tells a bedtime story to her son, about a dog she had when she was his age, or most probably invented: “Croissant was raped by a stray dog called Mohammed”. This must be the most offensive thing one heard this year. A bit later, she deflects a conversation about life and death by airily answering “We don”t believe in God”. All she wants is Wiener Dog to be put on because she ate “poison Granola” and had diarrhea all over the house.

Which brings us to what constitutes, for this reviewer at least, the problem of Solondz’s movies. They would made great short stories, would be hilarious on stage, captivating as a radio programme or podcast. But the man has chosen the camera as a medium, and he has no clue how to use it. Mercifully sparse on dog reaction shots (he’s not interested one bit in the dog per se, by the way) the movie is 70% static medium shots of people talking, 15% expository shots and only for the 10% remaining percent does the camera move and it’s meant to convey irony. This time, it’s a long, pensive travelling on dog diarrhea. This was certainly missing from the cinematographic canon and in a way it’s surprising John Waters didn’t do it first. But you kinda can’t escape thinking you’re looking at s***, which shouldn’t be a movie maker’s intention.

The film unravels from there. Three depressed Mexican hitchikers in wife-beaters sing “Celebraçion y tragedia” while some doofus gets high in a motel bathroom; he later has a circular conversation about Dad’s death with a brother having Down’s syndrom. An intermission features the dog travelling from Wild West to White House backgrounds, set on The Ballad of Wiener Dog. Danny de Vito pops up as a failed screenwriter insisting on teaching the “What if? Then what?” golden rule to jaded hispters. Ellen Burstyn appears for an ominous finale, starting with a visit from Fantasy, a performance artist and ending on the annoucement of her impending death. She has rechristened the dog Cancer and she asks Fantasy to “take Cancer outside”. At this rather terminal stage, one doesn’t quite know what or why one’s watching, or laughing about, anymore. Viewing avoidable.

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The Young Pope (2016)

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Habemus Papam

A “written & directed by Paolo Sorrentino” title card holds magical properties for yours truly. The man has “the divine disposition to play” he wrote into his fictional Pope’s fictional address. This disposition leads him to be extremely funny when he’s serious and extremely serious when he’s funny: you’re never quite sure what to think about a scene when it starts, which is good. What is an absolute delight is that most probably, it will end in a mind-boggling, if understated way. The man is a great film maker and he’s in complete control of his material. In this series, his material is the Vatican, placed in the clutch of newly elected Pope Pius XIII, of whom no one knows much about after a discreet career under the aegis of formidable cardinal Spencer, his mentor (James Cromwell, always a good sign).

To say that The Young Pope is extraordinarily clever would qualify both the series and its hero. Had Jude Law ever been that good since Gattaca? He wears the white cassock like a natural and seems to enjoy himself thoroughly, pacing the huge halls of his Cinecitta Vatican or insisting on starting is papacy with a Cherry Coke Zero. This Pope is a living enigma even for the one who manipulated the Curia to have him elected, puppet master cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando, as mellifluous as venomous). There is no mistake to be made though: under his photogenic appearance, the young Pope is resolved to shake thinks up in the Catholic church, and the malevolent glee he displays at not following any of the advice he receives is infectious, but highly disquieting.

The Pope has a mother, a nun. Rest your beating hearts, he was an orphan placed in a home managed by her. “Never call me Mom, call me Sister Mary”, she says in a flashback. His first significant act as Pope is to heliport Sister Mary to the Vatican, his second is to made her his sole trusted assistant. So, regally arrives Diane Keaton, doing the responsability prep talk and locking horns with the puppet master as soon as they are in front of each other. One never had sympathy for the actress, but her aged, toothy face is perfect for the part.

Opening like any other series would do with the Pope’s first homely on St Peter’s square in front of thousands of faithful and beyond them the world, which goes from grandiose to off kilter to downright embarassing and is revealed as an extended dream sequence, The Young Pope is enthralling from its first frame. You can almost hear the great craftsman laughing aloud as he places his crimson pawns in a way Fellini would have approved. This Pope, see, is done with God. Does he even believe in Him? Or is it, on the contrary, God’s wrath incarnate? That might sounds like heady stuff. But if Sorrentino knows something from Il Divo, it’s that with great power come great opportunities for comedy.

From cardinals texting during confession to the Pope’s aversion to tourists “just passing through”, not forgetting impure thoughts in front of a Neolithic statue, this first episode is replete with giggles. Dialogues are first rate: “Are you sleeping, Holy Father?”, a question answered by an arch “No, I’m praying. For you.” being a mere example. The Pope doesn’t appreciate friendly relationships and is determined to remain in the practicality of formal ones. Our Holy Father is a monster, God bless him! Viewing essential.

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Nerve (2016)

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Lymph

A Lion’s Gate production, it doesn’t exactly comes as the surprise of the year that Nerve is a flatliner, solliciting more the lymphatic system than the nervous one. Depicting the dangerous addiction to popularity culture while being unable to say anything about it, the movie is based on the titular game of Dare or Die (in the game only OR IS IT?), given the existence of a Big Brother monitoring the Internet for the benefit of idle, bored, jaded American youth. Yes, it’s the Dark Web again. The 50s Soviets, the 60s atom, the 70s toxic spill, the 80s slasher, the 90s serial killer : Evil.

Vee (Emma Roberts, short for Venus in more than one way) is the good girl on call who gets entangled in Nerve’s playful perils. Her first dare is to meet-cute another player, Ian (Dave Franco, he of the Cruisesque grin), and kiss him. On the mouth. So risqué. Considering Miss Roberts and Mr Franco’s respective physique, it is allowed to muse who wouldn’t kiss either, or both. But that’s only the amuse-bouche, pardon the pun.

What follows comes straight from the Jackass canon, embodied by a brainless tattooed guy played by someone named Machine Gun Kelly (here credited as Colson Baker for some reason) and, less likely, Juliette Lewis, paying for the errors of her reckless youth by playing Helpless Suburban Mom. For a movie based on countless timers, the writers go all apocryphal Einstein, switching from the gas pedal to the brake according to convenience, to the point there’s not much to feel tense about.

What’s to say about a movie which end credits display a total unability to choose a style and stick to it? Visuals are competent. Soundtrack is good. Emma Roberts asserts her limited range with vivacity and she looks perky in a stolen 8K$ dress. Dave Franco does the same grinning in underwear. Oh look, there’s a drone! One can do rap moves while having his arm tattooed when one is cool. Lady Liberty is not aging gracefully as a symbol.

Girl meets boy and that’s quite about it. Discouraging honest reviewing by its sheer imbecility, Nerve won’t make you test the edge of your seat. More likely, this vaguely pleasant airhead of a movie will make you wonder why you never got, well, the nerve to get out of the store with that unpaid for dress or bag, since it looks and feels so easy to pull it off in movies like this one or Suicide Squad. Case dismissed.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (2016)

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Here We Go Again…

You know that you are treading on discomfiting ground when the best thing in a movie is Samuel L. Jackson. This is not a movie, dear reader, this is a thesaurus of movies Tim Burton has done before and movies he would have liked to do, so for your comfort one relegated clichés and quotes in separate check-lists at the end of the review, which leaves us with not much to review indeed. But nevertheless:

When his beloved kooky grandfather dies in traumatic circumstances, Benedict Cumberbatch’s illegitimate son is traumatised at the point that he sees monsters. We certainly see one: who said that we needed a new Elijah Wood already?

He sees monsters at the point he’s sent to therapy. Samuel L. Jackson plays Allison Jeanney, not playing a shrink but THE shrink, and it’s quite a stretch considering how such a great actress can look and sound so utterly bored. The explanation comes later as it is revealed whe’s herself played by Rupert Everett.

By the magic of true cinema, he’s teleported to a Welsh isle where everyone speaks English with a cockney accent. A lot is made of the word “bollocks”.

By the magic of the word “bollocks” he finds what he was supposed to find, namely Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, even though it only exist in a 24 hour time loop in 1943. Displaying an indeed fantastical amount of denial, everything looks rosy and easy-peasy in what’s Hell on Earth under the iron rule of a dubiously clothed tyrant obsessed by time. Miss Peregrine, see, is a monster not much better than the ones she fights, but as she’s played by Eva Green she’s also sweet and full of repressed love.

Said children have a variety of super powers, ranging from growing giant carrots to eating cutlets with the back of their head; among them Christina Ricci 2.0 plays the love interest who can turn into a human Karcher. The film has is fearless about a teenager boy hitting on his grandfather’s girlfriend. Together they have to fight the villain of the piece, the aforementionned Samuel L. Jackson. Evidently they prevail.

What’s to be said of such an omnibus format? On the bright side, there is no Johnny Depp in sight. Regarding the fantasy sequences, if some directors would have done some of them right,Tim Burton do them all right. Problem is, he already did them right, and some of them he even invented on previous, better movies. The idea of being caught in a time loop of Tim Burton’s quirky world is a nightmare that even Helena Bonham Carter had to wake up from. But then again, it is clearly established that “only a peculiar can enter a time loop”, a rule both revelatory and unapologetic for its own hubris. It has been a while that only Mr Burton think of himself as peculiar.

Clichés check-list
Cheap existential voice-over: this time it starts with “Have you feel like nothing matters?”, never a good sign.
An important key missing; how’s that for symbolism?
The Lady In White urban legend (here played by Samuel L. Jackson)
“I see dead people”, here rephrased as “I see monsters”: hey, we see them too!
Gun: every good American has one.
Kooky old man: a character who’s gonna die but who rather speaks in riddles than in clear language (not that it matters anyway).
An Academy Award winner dying in the first five minutes: flashbacks guaranteed.
And as a flashback, some persecuted Polish lineage as bedtime soty, including lullaby.
Hero made a laughing stock at school when he’s giving the best presentation they can hope to see in such a moronic environment.
Fun made of Suburbia, here called “The Waves”.
Ineffectual father, here a lost generation between Grandpa and himself.
Insular humour.
Styx crossing, here as “Take my son to the other side”.
House haunted by children ghosts: what is it about if not that?
Playing on Dad’s gullibility.
Journey back in time.
Telekinesis.
Typical English welcome, as in “Your tea is getting cold”.
Recluse in the attic.
Time clock governing time.
Suspended raindrops.
Rupert Everett playing a dandy.
Sneaking out by the window.
Cursed legacy.
Zombi home invasion.
Kiss of life.
Death of the villain, as in “poetic justice”.
Coward safety vs. bravoury.
Skull design on whatever.

Quotes check-list
Self-quote n°1: Edward Scissorhands, as in “fun made of Suburbia”.
Sixth Sense, as in “I see dead monsters”.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Wait, why?)
Sherlock Holmes, as in “Miss Peregrine was very clever and she smoked a pipe”.
Stephen King’s The Shining, as in “animal topiary”.
Penny Dreadful, as in “cursed Eva Green in period costume”.
Groundhog Day as in “24h time loop”.
Self-quote n°2: Alice in Wonderland, as in “flower garden”.
Self-quote n°3: Sleepy Hollow, as in “girl in the air in a flower garden”.
Self-quote n°4: Alice in Wonderland, as in “pocket watch”.
Self-quote n°5: The Nightmare Before Christmas, as in “malevolent puppets”.
X Files, Mad Men, American Horror Story and Penny Dreadful all as in “the duel scene”.
The Last Airbender, as in “elemental powers”.
Pan’s Labyrinth, as in “eye-eating monster”.
The 2016 American Presidential campaign, as in “a young Donal Trump projecting his fantasies”.
The Bride of Frankenstein, as in “Judy Dench’s hair”.
Rising the Titanic, as the same.
Ghostbusters, as in “candy ghosts”.
Jason and the Argonauts, as in “skeleton battle”.
The Avengers, as in “Do I not look furious?” said by the actor playing Nick Fury.
The Shining, as in “one liner following a door being brought down with an ax”.
Titanic, as in “kissing at the boat’s front”.

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American Horror Story S6E10

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Priscilla, Queen Of The Blood Moon

After an unsavoury episode 9, the finale comes as a relief: yes, they made it, bringing a satisfying conclusion to a remarkable season, which will remain as the bleakest, cruellest and most pessimistic of the six; often also the wittiest and sharpest one. It is rather impressive that the writers, taping into that stale pool of found footage and reality TV, have concocted such a riveting tale of foolishness, retribution and sacrifice, brilliantly interpreted by such an uniformly good ensemble cast. The acerbic social commentary, running as a strong undercurrent along the season, brings to focus a new dimension of AHS, confirming the series as one of the most innovative thing one can watch on TV at the moment. Maybe even more importantly, they have managed to conclude with their trademark note of tenderness for the character they have dragged through hell, even though this time only one finds solace and closure, and finds it through sacrifice.

After a goofy flashback to happy times between My Roanoke Nightmare and its ill-fated sequel, during which the cast is having its fifteen minutes of fame, being interviewed by a drag queen with giant hair in front of a worshipping crowd, we focus, as was expected, on Lee’s case. A mix of newsflashes and webcasts briefly sum up her first trial for the murders she commited during the doomed second season. She’s found not guilty, having been under the influence of the Polk’s hallucinogenic product. This causes as much outrage as it cements her status as a post-modern icon.

The second trial, for the murder of her husband during the first season, reacquaints us with a character that we were worried the writers had forgotten, her daughter Flora, who testifies against Lee as an eyewitness but tells her “I was safe with Priscilla, happier than I ever was with you”. Having ger daughter rejecting her so completely is Lee’s worst possible sentence. The jury however, refusing to base their decision on ghost stories, finds her not guilty again.

In true contemporary fashion, Lee publishes a best-selling book and goes on live TV in hope to reach out to Flora, chosing the Lana Winters Show. Lana Winters was the journalist surviving Season 2: Asylum at the price of killing her son, the serial killer known as Bloody Face. Sarah Paulson, freed from the hurdles of her British accent, does a fine job at playing Barbara Walters, botoxed to one inch of her life and therefore unable to express anything than mild interest when the last remaining member of the Polk family breaks into the studio with an assault rifle.

Ensues the last intrusion into the house on Sappony Road, this time in the framework of the Spirit Chasers cable TV programme, and to our utmost relish Ashley Gilbert, the medium also known as ; Crickett, reappears to wrap up a nice series of bloody deaths. Only Lee and Flora remain in the haunted house, surrounded by ghost during the Blood Moon. Only one goes out alive as was announced in that Episode 6 title card, after a final twist which firmly establishes the season as first and foremost a ghost story.

Ultimately blurring the lines between reality and the fictional rendition of it, Roanoke messes up with our head with gleeful relish and more than a little cruelty. 2016 was, all in all, an excellent vintage for American Horror Story. Season 7 is already announced for early next year; one can’t wait to be submitted to such perversion again, wondering what mind games the very talented authors of the show will come up with. Congratulations to the crew!

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