Two months ago I reviewed the Lore Podcast. I was impressed by its seamless blending of supernatural ghost story tone, actual intriguing facts and tales, and easy to digest short format. Its a good podcast and one I enjoy as I learned about topics ranging from Mothman to H.H Holmes. But is it a style that works in other formats?
This month on October 13th, creator Aaron Mahnke has brought his popular podcast to Amazon Prime with a six episode mini-series. It is extremely well timed, releasing two weeks before Halloween. However, in my opinion, it falls flat and does not measure up to the podcast. The largest problems are the odd format, the longer run time, and frankly the fact that it might just not work as a tv show. I also admit that while I loved to hear these gruesome ghost stories, seeing them live was a bit much for my squeamish self. I cringed and looked away a lot. In the end, I’ll definitely be sticking with the podcast and giving the rest of this show a probable pass.
This show employs a mix of animation, narration by Mr.Mahnke, reenactment and documentary style clips of medicine and drawings. Basically this is to say it is a bit of a mess. There is no consistency in flow. This might be intentional. The editing seems rough almost on purpose, as if to make it creepier, but for some reason it just seems disjointed and messy. This is added to by the fact that the animation was low quality, unnerving and strange. Again, it might have been an artistic choice, but there’s only so much messiness before it starts to be a detriment between the jumpy edits and the animation. I personally would have preferred something crisp and clean like the Three Brothers Tale from the Harry Potter films, or even the animation style from A Monster Calls.
The reenacting had good moments, but it seemed like every time I was settling into the story being told by the actors, Mahnke would cut in with his narration or cut away entirely to interject the tale with some medical background knowledge or musing about the story. For example, in the first episode he talked about modern medicine’s ability to stop the heart or save organs, blurring the lines between life and death. While these side musings might work in a thoughtful podcast, they disrupted the flow of a television show. Overall, his narration just made it hard to get into the story being told. Perhaps if he had kept his narration to the beginning and end things would have flowed better, but as it was he made at least 6 interjections over the 45 minute run. The reenacting took a back seat to his narration, and that cheapened the entire experience.
I could see this being an issue that is eventually ironed out, but for now this format he has picked just really does not work. It is like he threw everything at the board to see what would stick. I also believe that, while he is the creator, he probably should have considered handing the job of narration off to another. His voice is good for a low key podcast (Though others I know cite his voice as the major reason they can’t get into it) but in a show it really doesn’t work at all. They needed something different here.
The Longer Runtime
I think the reason he could try all these different formats was that he had twice as much time to play with. sometimes a longer show lets things get more dragged out, and that might have happened here. The longer run time also permitted him to go off on his tangents about modern medicine, which had little to do with the current tale. While I do think one tangent, about the interim morgues was interesting, I think that it was easy to lose interest with the fact that he did not streamline the tale.
And yet, at the same time, I wonder if a full hour might have allowed the reenactment style to breath. If the episode had played out more like a drama or a more focused story things would have been less jumpy and one could be pulled in more deeply into the story. So, honestly maybe the run time wasn’t long enough. Either way, the runtime was half one half the other, and it ended up with the negatives of both a half hour and an hour long show. Either cut all the fat, or flesh it out and let it breath.
Maybe Ghost Stories Are Better Told Than Seen
In the end, though, I might just prefer listening to a ghost story than seeing one. When you listen to a ghost story your imagination gets to create the scene and create a more natural fear. Watching this episode I cringed and looked away at the sight of a woman’s wrists being slit and did not love to hear the wet hacking cough of tuberculosis. I was also very much grossed out at the tonic. All of these reactions had nothing to do with the quiet unsettling fear one feels while listening to a ghost story- they were just visceral distractions.
So yes, in a visual format I was grossed out by blood and sickness. I also found myself rolling my eyes at their method of showing a ghost, and some of the acting during the reenactments. These visual distractions weren’t a problem when just listening to a story either. The visuals, overall, added nothing to the Lore stories and instead served to detract from the tales. Scary movies will always have their place, but when the tales are told like camp fire ghost stories, visuals simply ruin things.
I am really happy this mini-series happened. It is a cool idea. It just had a poor execution. It is clear that even Amazon was not ready to go fully in on the concept- that’s why its a six episode mini-series relying on Halloween to get viewers. Still, if it gets more people aware of Lore, that’s a win. And maybe, with no prior knowledge of the podcast viewers will enjoy the stories more.
I should note that the first two episodes are the first episodes of the podcasts, so I was immediately already familiar with the stories. This did not help to make me interested in the show. I wish it had brought new material to Lore fans.
Even with new material, though, it doesn’t change the fact that the show just has a lot of formatting issues. It can’t seem to decide what it wants to be or how it wants to tell stories. It is a bit of a terror in itself, a bunch of pieces cobbled together like Frankenstein’s monster.
Final Word: Go Listen to the Podcast Instead.