#5 Rabbits and The Last Movie – Description (Rabbits): “When Carly Parker’s friend Yumiko goes missing under very mysterious circumstances, Carly’s search for her friend leads her headfirst into a ancient mysterious game known only as Rabbits. Soon Carly begins to suspect that Rabbits is much more than just a game, and that the key to understanding Rabbits, might be the key to the survival of our species, and the Universe, as we know it.”
Description (The Last Movie): “Tanis podcast host Nic Silver and regular contributor MK, explore the possible existence of “The Last Movie,” an infamous underground feature film, reputed to drive you insane. Legend has it that every screening of this film was surrounded by bloodshed and controversy: one reviewer actually described slipping on blood in the aisle, as he ran through dozens of people trying to tear him apart.”
My take: Here I am cheating again with multiple podcasts, but in my defense, they are podcasts from the same production company PRA (And, I recommend getting used to this, as there will be a few more in the top spots). As described in my last post, Tanis, the Black Tapes, and Faerie all have the same breathless whispering X-Files vibe that is great at first, but starts to wear thin over time. Rabbits and the Last Movie show much more development and maturity. While both of these series have some of the breathless X-Files vibe, they also have a lot more action and character development. The previous three podcasts all consist nearly entirely of a whisper interview between a skeptic and true believer with guest interviewees appearing. Rabbits and The Last Movie have more action, but also veer away from the previous patterns in other significant ways as well.
Tanis, the Black Tapes, and Faerie all build on different mythologies and world building that takes endless interviews to uncover. The Last Movie and Rabbits have similar mythologies, but they are simpler, allowing the characters to breathe and having more action in the story line. I fell in love with the mythology and world building in the first three, but The Last Movie and Rabbits have a simplicity that allows for more character complexity and engaging story. Why you should listen: Movies, video games, and urban legends galore! If you love horror, check out the Last Movie. If you prefer games within games, Rabbits should be on your list.
#4 Life After / The Message – Description: “The Message and its sequel, Life After, take listeners on journeys to the limits of technology. In The Message, an alien transmission from decades ago becomes an urgent puzzle with life or death consequences. In Life After, Ross, a low level employee at the FBI, spends his days conversing online with his wife Charlie – who died eight months ago. But the technology behind this digital resurrection leads Ross down a dangerous path that threatens his job, his own life, and maybe even the world. Winner of the Cannes Gold Lion.”
My take: Yes, The Message feels very similar to Contact or Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Or, The Three Body Trilogy). That is because decoding messages from outer space is an old trope in science fiction and alien encounter stories. The best alien encounter stories build off of the history and have their own perspective – that is The Message / Life After. Life After is similar to episodes of the Twilight Zone or Black Mirror with a focus technology in a deliciously eerie way. Why you should listen: The in depth description of the science of sound and cryptography, a strong story, and quality acting (mostly) make it worth a listen. (Also, check out Steal the Stars for a similar podcast – technology and aliens!).
#3 We’re Alive (We’re Alive, Lockdown, and Goldrush)- Description: “For Army Reserve Soldier Michael Cross, the world as he knew it ended in an instant. One minute, he’s in college, and in the next, rioters are roaming the highway around him, breaking into cars, and literally tearing people apart. This is the day the dead walk. This is the world of We’re Alive. We’re Alive: Features chapters packing performances and sound effects that rival movies and prove that modern audio drama is undead and well. Join our survivors as they band together, struggle to fortify a safe haven known as the Tower, and discovers that zombies are far from the worst thing in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles where the rules of human decency no longer apply. Little food. Little water. Little hope. Who is lucky enough to say ‘We’re Alive?'”
My take: 200 million downloads cannot be wrong! Well, I’m sure they could be, but they are not. The acting is over the top and the scenes exaggerated with gor-ific sound effects; it is everything that a cheesy zombie flick should be – in podcast form. The We’re Alive franchise kept me company for the entire time I was living away from my family (5 years) – listening to it twice! If you are looking for a thoughtful exploration of the apocalypse that navigates nuanced relationships and… This is not it! If you are looking to revel in gore, tense situations, and ridiculous humor, then We’re Alive is the best you will find. Importantly, start at the beginning. The middle release Lockdown is the best of the three, but is much better after the original series. I am not sure I would have appreciated the third installment Goldrush without the first two, but for those of us that missed the first two, the third installment is a nostalgic return to what we love… Why you should listen: It has everything that you should love about any zombie series – gore, humor, cheesiness, and tongue and cheek nods to the genre.
#2 Borrasca (and The Edge of Sleep)- Description: “Sam Walker moves to the town of Drisking, Missouri one summer and quickly befriends two other kids, Kyle and Kimber. When Sam’s sister, Whitney, disappears a few months later, he passes five lonely years wondering what happened to her. When more people start disappearing suddenly, the three take it upon themselves to find out what’s happening to all the disappearing people what connection the disappearances hold with the mountain outside of town.”
My take: I must be getting old. I did not want to like this Q-Code podcast. I did not know who Cole Sprouse was, and I didn’t want to know. He is in his twenties; therefore, he was not a serious actor. But, then I remembered my parents only liking geriatric actors and wondering what their problem was (and yes, I like some older actors, the problem was that they seemed to *only* like actors of their generation). So, I decided to give Cole Sprouse a chance. And… The jury is still out. He had some strong moments… and, others not so strong. However, the story ended up just being too good to not enjoy (and, I tried). There are cheesy aspects of this story and horrific parts; in fact, it goes from a young former Disney actor to some messed up sh*t pretty quickly. As someone who grew up in a city and then moved to a small town, this podcast played on the dark and eerie feeling that small town American can have to an outsider. Why you should listen: Urban legends, missing girls, and skinned men!
#1 The Left / Right Game – Description: The Left / Right Game is a supernatural / paranormal themed podcast about a strange and dangerous game. A group of people begin the game together in a caravan of cars. The game is based on an internet board that describes rules and logs of previous players. The game begins as the caravan leaves Phoenix by taking the first left turn they see. Then, they take the first right turn, left turn, and so on. After 32 turns, they end up passing through a tunnel into what seems like a different world. The journey gets increasingly strange and dangerous.
My take: The story and acting are both very well done. Tessa Thompson stars (!) as a journalist who tags along with a group of conspiracy theorists, paranormal researchers, and a skeptic. She has an outstanding performance, but often Aml Ameen steals the show as a character who tries to track down his friend who is lost in the game. The story is similar to Rabbits in this way, but with much better acting and production quality.
What makes this one of the best fiction podcasts is the outstanding sound quality. They use sound artists from Hollywood movies; One lists Detective Pikachu and Marvel Movies to his credits. The podcast is best listened to with headphones or high quality speakers. As I was walking through the woods, there were moments when I couldn’t tell if the sounds were real or coming through the headphones. Why you should listen: Hollywood level production, incredible sound, outstanding acting, and a unique story.
Warning: However, I have a warning here – if you are listening in a car, be especially careful. There was at least one car crash in the story that made me jump a bit in the woods, so it might be dangerous in a car. I have enjoyed other podcasts from QCode (The Edge of Sleep, Gaslighting, and Blackout – with Rami Malek) and I have enjoyed all of them. The only criticism I have is that they are all about 10 episodes and they never extend into a second season. The stories would all lend themselves to continuation, so it is a bit frustrating. Though, it is worth the frustration to get quality stories with Hollywood level sound quality.
Honorable Mentions: Homecoming, Sandra, Archive 81, Crypto Z, The Narrow Caves, and The Horror of Dolores Roach.