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Thursday, September 8, 2022

“American Horror Stories” Review – Season 2 Finale “Lake” Sinks to a Watery Grave

The second season finale of ‘American Horror Stories’ gets pulled away by the tide and struggles to find its way back to a compelling conclusion.

“She needs to find her life again and get back to normal. We all do.”

There are some exceptional horror films that find fear within the unknown depths of the sea, whether it’s overt monster movies like Deep Rising, Underwater, or “The Raft” segment from Creepshow 2, or terrifying tales that are adjacent to the water like The Shallows. American Horror Story has more or less left underwater tales of woe alone even though a story that’s centered on the Loch Ness Monster or other aquatic Cryptids seems completely in line with the series’ agenda. “Lake,” the season finale of American Horror Stories’ second season, avoids a modern monster myth in favor of a somber meditation on grief and guilt. The inciting incident in “Lake” is predicated by a paranormal problem, but the episode largely keeps any sense of actual horror and danger reserved for offscreen and left to the audience, and character’s, imaginations. There’s a deep message that pulls “Lake” along, but it’s unfortunately another half-baked premise that doesn’t start really kicking its feet to fight against the current until its final act, at which point it’s too late for it to rise above the suffocating undertow.

A rash series of deaths at Lake Prescott fuels the larger mystery in this American Horror Stories episode, which is fundamentally about a grieving family who have temporarily lost their compass. “Lake” explores how the death of Jake (Bobby Hogan) leaves his entire family haunted with guilt, albeit in separately isolating ways where water becomes a unique trigger for them all. “Lake” doesn’t spend enough time on this device, but there’s some real depth to this concept during the earlier stages of the episode. “Lake” does as much as it can with this idea so that the characters don’t need to perpetually be around a lake in order for there to be any sense of tension. The bathtub, pool, and even the kitchen sink all play their parts as conduits for liquid terror.

There are some fascinating themes at the surface of “Lake” regarding the lack of closure that Jake’s family can receive because they don’t have a corpse to properly mourn. It could have made for an interesting episode if “Lake” devoted itself to this prolonged meditation on grief that didn’t provide Finn (Olivia Rouyre) with any closure. Finn could instead become increasingly obsessed with underwater exploration and finding her brother, but this chasing waterfalls approach to life only leads to her succumbing to the same watery grave that took in her brother. Of course, this is American Horror Stories so that’s not the direction that “Lake” decides to take. The installment instead adopts a much more blatant approach to its storytelling instead of a parable that’s steeped in mystery, but “Lake” is still a story that’s very much driven by obsession.

Some of the most fascinating touches in “Lake” are the brief glimpses of how this family attempts to process the loss of their son and the unraveling of their daughter. Tiny touches where the camera lingers on the parents’ uneasiness speak volumes and often convey just as much as the flashier moments underwater in “Lake.”  The episode begins as an emotional sibling story between Jake and Finn, only for it to naturally shift into a mother/daughter dynamic. “Lake” is arguably about the mother’s trauma even more than it’s interested in Finn’s pain, but this balance doesn’t come as a surprise with Alicia Silverstone in the role. These types of relationships are few and far between in the series without being tales that are built upon jealousy and other toxic feelings. “Lake,” at every turn, is a story about love.

The first 2/3 of “Lake” are a fairly introspective meditation on the loss of Jake that’s void of any real conflict beyond a few haunting jump scares. After Finn and her mother are able to literally confront their deceased family member they’re not only able to gain some sense of closure and move on, but “Lake” also graduates from some psychological grief to more tangible threats and terrors for its final act. The director of “Lake,” Tessa Blake, has a lot of experience on CW series, like 4400, Riverdale, and Walker, but she also directed one of the “Death Valley” episodes of AHS: Double Feature, so she’s not completely averse to Ryan Murphy’s corner of the horror universe. Blake doesn’t turn to any particularly memorable tricks throughout “Lake,” but the performances ring true and the installment both begins and ends with its biggest and most effective scenes.

The broader narrative of “Lake” makes sense, but there are several smaller questionable decisions throughout, including the choice to briefly transform the episode into a story about mob executions. The generational wealth and trust that accompanies the Prescott name helps them insulate their murderous family secret, but this makes for a bland enemy to face during the episode’s final stretch. This is reinforced by a sloppy digression about gaslighting that’s more convenient than clever. It’s unclear if Teddy Sears’ character was always evil or simply oblivious towards his firm’s malevolent actions. 

None of this is made clear beyond his family’s pivot to vilify him and his modest attempts to defend himself. He’s not the satisfying target that “Lake” sets him up to be. If anything, this glib “husband = bad” analogy only makes “Lake” blend in more with previous American Horror Stories episodes and many of Manny Coto’s other surface level scripts. But hey, why not throw in some easy allusions to The Fog for good measure before everything is said and done? Some of these visuals feel gratuitous or unearned, but one of the few truly effective moments in “Lake” is when a horde of zombies drag a character to a slow death underwater. It’s a genuinely disturbing way to go out, even if it’s not a thoroughly original fatality. 

“Lake” is a par for the course installment of American Horror Stories that doesn’t end the season on the same note of unabashed fan service that was present during the show’s freshman year, but it doesn’t exactly push the anthology series out of its comfort zone either. A season of middling episodes with brief flashes of brilliance isn’t the greatest endorsement for a third batch of American Horror Stories episodes. However, there’s a certain soothing junk food nature to the show that continues to work and indulge genre fans. For some, “Lake” might act as the proof that American Horror Stories has run out of tricks and it’s time to permanently submerge itself. However, it feels like the horror anthology deserves at least one more season to experiment and see what can be done with all of this genre potential. In some respects, it brings more to the table and contains greater potential than American Horror Story proper.

American Horror Stories just needs to find the right formula so that decent ideas aren’t left to tread water.

“Lake” Rating:

Overall Season Rating: 

The post “American Horror Stories” Review – Season 2 Finale “Lake” Sinks to a Watery Grave appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3730848/american-horror-stories-review-season-2-finale-lake-sinks-to-a-watery-grave/

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