“American Horror Stories” Review – ‘Facelift’ Unveils a Transformation So Outlandish, It’s Impossible to Look Away

‘American Horror Stories’ targets the plastic surgery industry with a wild episode that hinges upon its transformative finish.

“What’s your secret?”

The world is a superficial place and it’s hard to not get caught up in physical appearances. It’s no surprise that a wealth of horror films and social satires focus on plastic surgery, the cosmetics industry, and the pursuit of “perfection.” Crimes of the Future, The Neon Demonor a myriad of Tales From the Crypt episodes like “Beauty Rest,” “Only Skin Deep,” or “Judy, You’re Not Yourself Today” all attack the subject matter from uniquely creepy perspectives. In fact, “Facelift” is one of the episodes of American Horror Stories that most closely resembles a Tales From the Crypt installment, which is high praise for a series that occasionally feels like it’s phoning it in.

In “Facelift,” American Horror Stories has a lot of fun with the ludicrous nature and hypocrisy of beauty regimens and revitalization products, not that it’s necessarily saying anything new on the matter. “Facelift” playfully juxtaposes the ravages of age that are felt by its older protagonist, Virginia (Judith Light), with the comparable drain that her 30-year-old daughter, Faye (Britt Lower), feels in contrast to the 20-year-olds that run circles around her at school. It’s an effective way to highlight how this cycle never ends and these feelings are inevitable regardless of age or health. Nobody is perfect or without flaws and if Virginia could just accept this lesson then a whole lot of bloodshed would be avoided in “Facelift,” an episode of American Horror Stories that’s both strong in themes and disturbing visuals, but will no doubt be remembered for its absurd twist.

“Facelift” gradually becomes one of the weirdest episodes of American Horror Stories, but it begins in completely conventional territory when an innocent crush and nagging doubt get the better of Virginia. There’s such an intensity in Light’s performance when Virginia first sees Cassie and is confounded over her youthfulness. There’s a desperation that leaks out of Virginia that’s never overdone. This behavior helps set the scene for the many elaborate hoops that Virginia jumps through to replicate Cassie’s beauty. Her frightened fragility feels genuine and never stops reminding the audience that there’s a real person at the center of this story, which is frequently something that gets overlooked in American Horror Stories. 

The supernatural direction that “Facelift” heads down is a successful heightening of these ideas, but the episode would work just as well if Cassie didn’t have any sort of beauty secret and all of Virginia’s desperate efforts were predicated on paranoia. “Facelift” is an episode that at every opportunity preaches to its characters that beauty comes from within, but they purge the idea like it’s trans fat and refuse to accept the easy moral that would wrap up any other anthology horror episode on beauty or plastic surgery. It’s ultimately better that “Facelift” does dip into paranormal activity, but American Horror Stories picks subject matter that’s full of genuine horror stories that all stem from the same desire to “look better.”

It doesn’t take much for Virginia to fall for the alluring promises that Dr. Pearl (Rebecca Dayan) dangles in front of her as she pledges to turn “hideous people into beautiful people.” Virginia is literally ready to change everything that she thinks and feels if it means that she’ll qualify for Dr. Pearl’s mysterious miracle procedure. Dr. Pearl brags that her science is the Coca-Cola of plastic surgery and that her comprehensive work goes far beyond surface level skin care. In doing so, “Facelift” is one of the first episodes of the season that’s not overly predictable or formulaic when it comes to its specifics and the bulk of the episode is actually pretty cryptic as to what’s actually going on with Virginia. “Facelift” also benefits from how 2/3 of the episode feature Virginia in the inherently evocative visual of foreboding face bandages. A transformative story lies beneath it all, both psychologically, but also in a viscerally physical manner, too.

As is the case with many facelift horror stories, this episode basically turns into one big game of withheld gratification as both Virginia, and the audience, wait for the bandages to come off and witness the fruits of Dr. Pearl’s labor. This type of narrative faces a natural risk in the sense that there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on whether that post-bandage reveal satisfies these lofty expectations. “Facelift” is not Twilight Zone’s “Eye of the Beholder” when it comes to its payoff, but it’s still a surprisingly gratifying finish that hits harder than expected and is absolutely bonkers. “Facelift” at least attempts to do something different, regardless of whether it works or doesn’t, and in the end it’s arguably the most unabashedly fun episode of the entire season. This gonzo Island of Dr. Moreau/The Most Dangerous Game hybrid is ridiculous enough to work. This is the type of schlock that I want from American Horror Stories. 

”Facelift” also positions Virginia’s transformative reveal for its final act, which isn’t a surprising decision. However, it’s possible that the episode would be somewhat stronger if Virginia’s post-bandage journey were to begin earlier in the episode to allow her more time in her new skin. This would dramatically weaken the suspense that builds over Virginia’s “swelling” as the episode plays out, but it’s a different approach that could have subverted expectations a little further with all of this. Either way, “Facelift” still embraces impressive prosthetic effects that get to become the episode’s centerpiece and not just a flashy button that ends the installment.

“Facelift” is a bit of a mixed bag in execution and the mother-daughter bond between Virginia and Faye should be just as important as Virginia’s cloying quest for self-love. There are attempts to add depth to this dynamic, but it never fully comes together. The revelation that connects Faye to the “Beautiful Ones” is also completely unnecessary and tries to cram a little too much into the final act, but it’s also not a huge distraction that undoes the rest of “Facelift’s” work. Admittedly, any scene between Virginia and Faye works much better than it should simply because Light and Lower are such class acts that help elevate these simplistic roles. Neither actor goes wasted in this episode.

A lot goes on in “Facelift,” but at its core it’s really just a story about someone who wants to be able to truly love themselves, which is something everyone can understand. It’s heartbreaking that after everything Virginia sees and endures that she’s not even allowed a sad ending where she’s forced to live as some deformed creature. Virginia’s fate is more grim than that and she doesn’t get to live at all. “Facelift” hammers this cruel point in through surreal circumstances, but it makes for a memorable installment of American Horror Stories that’s the series’ new episode to beat when it comes to hog-wild lunacy.

In the name of the Pig, I declare “Facelight” a success!

Related Posts

Our Privacy policy

https://news75today.com - © 2024 News75today