Tuesday, 4 March 2014

American Horror Story: Coven

As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I have been ranting about American Horror Story for months now and it has turned into a bit of an obsession. After perusing the 'AHS' tags on tumblr and learning that the upcoming season was about witches, I of course had to give it a go...because witches?! And  because I love anything remotely creepy, scary and disturbing which American Horror Story: Coven most definitely is.

Coven starts off by establishing itself as an exploration of  the different kinds of  acts that can be related to 'witchcraft': voodoo, herbology, individual powers, abilities and homage and worship of ancient deities. Set in New Orleans both in the modern day and during its slave era in the 1800's, it cuts to both time periods to explain its story. Coven focuses on a group of women, all of which have strong leads and specific characters within the show and was surprised that unlike the previous seasons Murder House and Asylum (which I was in incessant need of watching alongside Coven to get more of my American Horror Story fix) women were really at the heart of the show. And by heart, I mean all the male characters played a secondary role in moving the story along. Perhaps Coven is a little gender biased, but American Horror Story is an anthology series, with almost all of the same cast being used each season to tell different stories. It was refreshing then, to see this particular story unfold in its own unique and particular way.


Coven is essentially  about the relationship that women have between one another: competition, envy, mother-daughter relationships, friendship and solidarity. Coven starts off with women pitting against one another, specifically between those that practice voodoo 'Marie Laveau' the all hailed 'Voodoo Queen' and 'Fiona Goode' the current 'Supreme' of a coven of witches. Racial elements are used to fuel the story and by using flash backs to the 1800s we are able to gain a unique perspective on the story. I was tiring of the divide between the two superpowers, after feeling it was reinforcing the message that women can only be powerful if they hate and rally themselves against eachother, but was very surprised that this was reversed half way through the season. After a shocking amount of spells and voodoo (including an Evil Dead esque scene where one witch chops down a dozen or so zombies sent to destroy her and her coven, with a chainsaw) the opposing sides realise that external threats are more real and dangerous to their existence than eachother and join forces. I feel that Coven is a story about women, without men, or where men play a very minor role.  Coven is important in the way it explores the different dynamics between women and I believe that in television/film women are rarely shown as separate entities, that exist outside of their romantic involvement with men (with Game of Thrones being the only other example I can think of). Here women showcase power, ability and a specific yearning of being the best they can be.

Coven does lose focus somewhere around the middle of the season where it becomes too comedic (purposely) and the storyline becomes rushed and somewhat confusing. With an irrelevant Stevie Nicks sing-along cameo (but it is Stevie Nicks so...can we complain?). Coven starts of brilliantly: sinister, gruesome and engaging and thankfully picks up momentum towards the end, unlike Asylum that stays flawless and emotionally engaging (and absolutely terrifying) from start to finish. Nonetheless, Coven is truly unique and celebratory. The main focus of the show is finding out who will emerge as the new 'Supreme' replacing the old 'Supreme' ( who is played by the amazing Jessica Lange- I seriously love this woman) and  its exploration of power and success is interesting, demanding true sacrifices (gouging of one's eyes?) and selflessness to emerge triumphant and interestingly emphases the particular  idea that everyone pays for their sins and wrongdoings in one way or the other. And very oddly,  if you are nonredeemable in your actions a voodoo deity will place you in hell (which quickly dashed all comedic elements out the window). On a side note, Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett look amazing in their 50s and 60s and I am glad that women of older generations are being given the spotlight they deserve and are celebrated for it. Coven will make you a devoted 'Fleetwood Mac' fan and want to dress in black and wide brimmed hats for the rest of your life.

*Can I just add that the opening credits are worthy of credit too. Possibly the most creepiest but effective thing I have ever seen.