TV Review: American Horror Story: Coven – Episode 1

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The horror anthology produced by FX in the US and now airing Monday nights on channel Eleven usually bases its setting, characters and plot around archetypal horror concepts and sub-genres. Now in its third incarnation, American Horror Story sets Coven modern day New Orleans with flashbacks to the nineteen hundreds and focuses on the supernatural aspect of witchcraft.

Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga) is a typical teenager whose life takes a bizarre twist after discovering she possesses an unnatural talent and, put bluntly, is a witch. Quickly ripped away from her family, Zoe finds herself at Miss Robinchaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, a sanctuary and boarding school for witches. The school is run by Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) whose teaching philosophy of passive activity becomes compromised when her mother and supreme witch Fiona Goode (series regular Jessica Lange) decides to stay in the school and usurp control.

Ironically, the season dedicated to witches looses the magic that entranced us in the previous seasons. The writing, although still a cut above most average television programming, isn’t as strong has it has been in the past. The premiere didn’t establish enough intrigue. There didn’t seem to be anything at stake for us to emotionally invest in the story. The premieres of American Horror Story and American Horror Story: Asylum set up multiple questions and ensnared our curiosity in every narrative strand. We didn’t enjoy this in Coven, rather the dialogue told the audience the action rather than accompanied it. Voice narration was relied on to convey the easily acceptable and understandable setting, throwing away the opportunity to couple that information with possible characterisational moments.

The setting of Miss Robinchaux’s Academy is also disappointing, mixing the magic of Hogwarts with the bitchy teens of “Mean Girls”. That combination might sound perfect for some, but it also feels a stretched mix attempting to reach a wider demographic.

That being said, the episode was still very enjoyable. The camera work and coverage is incredibly playful with sweeping steadi-cam shots that leave the viewer trying to figure out how they were pulled off. Aided with jump cuts, the audience is kept on the edge of their seat.

The premiere is entertaining and well worth the time to appreciate the cinematography and acting. Content wise, the episode isn’t as awe inspiring as the other seasons, but there still remains the potential for the season to improve.

REVIEW SCORE: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

American Horror Story: Coven airs Monday nights on Channel Eleven.

Article by Hugo Monotti.

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