"American Horror Story: Roanoke" - The Horror Hiding in Between Gaps of Interpretation

Curator's Note

It is a story we’ve all heard before: a couple moves into a rural home hoping for a fresh start, but they instead encounter something otherworldly and evil instead. Even newer narratives which use “found footage” and other cinematic tricks to tell these horror stories have come to feel predictable and trite. The primary reason for this is that most of them are still telling a straightforward tale in which viewers are left with no ambiguity; which is why American Horror Story: Roanoke’s nebulous nature is so horrifying.

Established as a documentary series that then becomes a reality show and concludes with clips from multiple reality shows, YouTube videos, and news segments, Roanoke is told through multiple and fragmented media sources. And this is where the true horror of Roanoke lies. We live in an era in which everything that can be recorded is, and that any event people want to replicate can do so. Yet, we are in a post-truth period in which no one is ever truly certain of which collection of facts or narratives can be trusted. Similarly, Roanoke’s multiple layers simultaneously provides information while leaving viewers even more uncertain as to what is really happening.

Within AHS: Roanoke, the main narrative is told through the following means: the in-universe shows My Roanoke Nightmare (docu-series), Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell (docu-series), Crack’d (reality show), The Lana Winters Special (news program), Spirit Chasers (reality show), and fictionalized PaleyFest and YouTube videos. All of these shows within the show and additional videos are designed to discover or communicate a truth of what happened to viewers. However, this information is always corrupted by and filtered through the intents of those producing the media.

The real Roanoke Colony was found abandoned in 1590. Its story has since been told and retold for centuries; with each new version being largely shaped by the new storyteller. Instead of creating a well-rounded understanding of what occurred to those colonists, these revisions have led to an increasingly fractured understanding of what transpired in the 16th century. AHS: Roanoke echoes this historical fragmentation and connects it to the current media landscape by leaving its audience lost in a forest of information, surrounded by potential threats, and no safe harbor to grant them the time needed to figure things out.


Thanks so much for your take on the fragmentation of narrative, truth, and history on Roanoke. In calling up history, I'm reminded of Laura's post about reenactment in gothic narrative, and I wonder if you might categorize this fragmentation as gothic in anyway, or if you read it as purely postmodern -- the show's attempt, perhaps, to critique, satirize, or otherwise parody the sensational horror of "truth"?

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