First Impressions: The Phenomenon

Occasionally I come across certain podcasts worthy of discussion and critique, but the show in question doesn’t have enough published content produced to justify a fully-scored review. Early Impressions is a spoiler-free solution to fill this gap. 

I’m a sucker for well-edited scary things. Or at the very least, edited scary things. I remember as a teen lying in bed listening to the famed “first Star Wars horror” book Death Troopers on CD and getting the heebiest of jeebies from subtle usage of sound effects and music cues. All it took was a few well-timed clicking sounds and goopy flesh noises to get me binge-watching a sitcom or two for hours on end after to purge the spooky thoughts.

The Phenomenon hit this spot perfectly by trading on an imprinted fear of the Emergency Broadcast System. While it might not have the same impact in other parts of the world, I grew up on one end of an area known as “tornado alley.” Hearing that tone while a worried-looking weatherman tried to keep the county up-to-date was a summer fixture. That sustained tone is enough to make my blood run cold.

the phenomenon

Except, The Phenomenon isn’t announcing a local weather event, it’s announcing the worst possible reason to use an EBS broadcast: the world has come to an end. Being a spoiler-free look I’m not going to share exactly how the world comes to an end, but the warning message tells one all they need to know:

Do not look outside. Do not look at the sky. Do not make noise.

Adapted from a 400+ page sci-fi novel self-published by R. K. Katic of the same name, The Phenomenon features an ensemble cast of people from all walks of life in different places around the globe. The inherent gimmick of not being able to look outside opens up a lot of storytelling possibility as the narrative jumps from one place to the next. Subway tunnels, underground complexes, cars with blacked-out windows, even the ISS.

It should be noted this audio drama leans far more towards character drama and dialog than to sci-fi or horror. There are many moments of damn interesting sci-fi concepts, there are some scenes of damn good horror, but it’s not lifeblood of the show as much as, say, a show like Attention Hellmart Shoppers.

As the story currently stands there are several ways it could go in future, I’ve no specific clue as I’ve stayed away from the novel (most of which can be found on a Reddit thread for some reason) but I’ve fingers crossed the quality of acting and writing will continue from this strong early start.

Given this particular audio drama is produced by a legit production company and not your usual bunch of friends with a closet to record in, I’m not as impressed with the aural quality and editing but it’s still pretty good. That said, it’s on par with what I’d expect from a project with actual money sunk into it.

Unfortunately this podcast launched just one month after shooting wrapped on the John Krasinksi/Emily Blunt horror flick A Quiet Place, a story about a family haunted by a vague supernatural entity that appears to kill them if they make any noise. There has only really been one scene in The Phenomenon so far that trades on the “do not make noise” section of their tagline, but come April I worry about half-assed comparisons or accusations of rip-offery should Quiet Place make bank.

That said, who knows, maybe my cynical worldview is wrong and people will discover The Phenomenon as a result of seeing A Quiet Place and wanting something else to scratch that niche horror niche. Only time will tell.

For now I’ll not look outside, not look at the sky, and try not to make too much noise.

You can find The Phenomenon at their website or on iTunes.

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