One of the common criticisms lobbed at American Horror Story Cult, the show’s seventh season, is that it’s simply not scary. A show with “Horror” in its title should be scary, and besides a few scattered clown cult murders, the season’s opening episodes just didn’t live up.
Over the last couple of weeks, that changed. After episode 4, “11/9,” revealed the backstory of Evan Peters’ character Kai Anderson, it opened the floodgates. Now the cult is in full view, and the last two episodes of American Horror Story Cult were filled with pure, horrific dread.
Seriously–if you don’t think watching a room full of people ritualistically drive a dozen nails into a man’s skull while he’s still alive is horrifying, that’s on you.
With the veil lifted from Anderson’s cult, American Horror Story Season 7 is no longer holding anything back. It’s a quirk of this season that knowing more about the killers has made them scarier, rather than doing the opposite. Maybe it’s because those killers include characters we used to trust, making the danger for the show’s last sane person, Sarah Paulson’s Ally, feel extremely real.
It’s not like Cult was hiding it before. Councilman Chang disrespected Kai, and then got murdered. Beverly Hope (Adina Porter) seemed way too enthusiastic whenever she reported a new murder on the news. Ally’s therapist, Dr. Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson), was the only person who could have known that poor woman who died with her husband in Episode 3 was afraid of caskets. And Winter (Billie Lourd) is Kai’s sister; of course she’s in on it.
But seeing these characters in full cult mode, driving massive knives into Beverly’s boss or shooting nails into a former member’s forehead, is unnerving. They’re still maintaining public facades of normalcy, but under cover of masks and darkness, they’re pure evil. It plays into a very modern paranoia that everyone around you is hiding something sinister. For Ally, that’s a literal truth, not some vague fear, but by the time she realized it at the end of this week’s episode, “Mid-Western Assassin,” it was too late.
Even an edited version of the episode’s opening shooting was chilling to watch, and the unedited version, available online, is even worse. It’s twice as long, for one thing, and it shows several casualties by (what’s later revealed to be) Meadow’s hand that the aired version omitted.
By the end, Ally’s been arrested for a shooting she didn’t commit. She looks guilty, and there’s absolutely no one alive who will back up her version of events. It’s unclear where the rest of the season will go, but it’s obvious this was a turning point.
Ally has spent the entire season of American Horror Story Cult up to this point wondering if she was going crazy. Now she knows the truth: She’s not, but the world is. With or without masks, the people who want to capitalize on our fear are terrifying. And now that they’re out in the open, this season of American Horror Story is finally living up to its name.