Review by Lauryn Angel
American Horror Story: Hotel, the fifth installment of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck’s lavish series, might just as easily be called American Horror Story: Homage. The hotel itself, the Hotel Cortez borrows elements from The Shining, from its haunted rooms to the presence of unsettling children in the hallways. Even the carpeting recalls the famous flooring of the Overlook Hotel. (The rest of the design, however, is a bit more art-deco.) The figure of The Countess, played by Lady Gaga, has echoes of Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve) in Tony Scott’s The Hunger – in fact, we are introduced to the Countess and her paramour, Donovan (Matt Bomer) in a montage that effectively recreates the opening sequence of that film. Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) is on the hunt for a serial killer whose M.O. is very similar to that of John Doe in Seven, a film which borrows heavily from Dante’s Inferno. These references come together to form a fascinating hour of television that, while thin on plot development, should bring viewers back for more.
Much has been made of Lady Gaga’s addition to the cast, effectively replacing Jessica Lange as resident diva. In this first episode, her job seems to be to embody the Countess’s glamour and perversion – a role she wears well. Matt Boemer’s Donovan spends much of the episode naked, which seems a fitting state for the Countess’s favorite toy. The first episode introduces only a few of the cast regulars: Kathy Bates is a delightfully curmudgeonly desk clerk; Sarah Paulson is a strung-out addict; and Dennis O’Hare is the glamourous Liz Taylor. Wes Bently is essentially the straight man in this bizarre assemblage. We have yet to see Evan Peters, Angela Basset, and Finn Whitrock, who are all on the roster for this season.
The hotel is the best reason to watch – surely Mark Worthington will receive another Emmy nomination for his production design – as it’s never really clear whether the occurrences are real or hallucinatory, happening now or echoes of previous events. The next-best reason to watch is to see what the repertory company’s actors are up to this season. As for plot. . . well, plot is thin on the ground at this point, but frankly, the spectacle is enough at this point to keep me watching for a while. One only hopes that this series manages to sustain the eerie atmosphere and give viewers just enough story to keep watching.