Horror fiction podcasts were a huge part of my life when I had a job that required me to drive multiple hours a day nearly every day of the week. I would listen to NoSleep, or The Magnus Archives, and my personal favorite, The Black Tapes, until my coworkers refused to let me take the aux chord. I can understand that. How many times in one week do you really want to listen to the “Butcherface” episode of NoSleep? For the majority of people, I would say less than one. It was just a couple of days ago when I read a headline touting the new Spotify exclusive Quiet Part Loud from executive producer Jordan Peele, with the catchy quote saying, “I wanted us to make the scariest podcast of all time.” Did they? That’s something we’ll get into a little later.
From writers Mac Rogers and Clay McLeod Chapman, Quiet Part Loud follows ultra-right-wing conspiracy theorist Rick Egan (Tracy Letts) whose vitriolic xenophobic anti-Muslim rhetoric, on the heels of 9/11, causes a major increase in Muslim-based hate crimes. When three young Muslim teenagers go missing, Rick’s rhetoric heats up, equating their disappearance with the acts of 9/11. Eight years later, after being kicked off the air, Rick is washed up. He’s a drunk who can barely draw a crowd and is fast losing the minuscule amount of relationship he has left with his daughter Becca (Milly Shapiro). When one of the missing boys turns up in Staten Island Rick, he goes to harass the family once again. This time things are different. Rick must find common ground with Noor (Nikohl Boosheri), the very sister of one of the boys Rick spread vicious lies about. Can Rick and Noor put aside their respective hatred for one another to bring a stop to The Blank (Taran Killam), a bodiless audio demon, before more people die?
Before jumping right in, I just want to say how impressed I am with the year Clay McLeod Chapman is having. His found footage anthology Found was absolutely brilliant, and no I’m not upset I sent my story in after the deadline and didn’t get picked [*tear*], and his other novel Ghost Eaters was an absolute success. Even the small bookstore that has about 150 books near me had copies of it. On top of all of that, another Jordan Peele/Chapman collab was on the cards with the film Wendell & Wild, based on the novel by Clay McLeod Chapman and Henry Selick. So, a pretty damn great year for Chapman.
Now is this “the scariest podcast of all time”? No. Is it really well-done horror? Absolutely. When you’re up against really solid horror podcasts you have a lot of work ahead of you, and there are a few aspects where I think Quiet Part Loud falls flat. The biggest downfall of this show is what I will tentatively call PSV, podcast sounding voice. One thing I have noticed in quite a few horror fiction podcasts is the first few seasons find difficulty with creating authentic sounding…sound. There are quite a few instances where this almost found-footage style show falls victim to overly theatric performances. On the whole, that is not a bad thing, but once there are multiple plot points delivered overly acted it kind of loses its luster. I know that’s probably a dumb thing to nitpick, it’s just something I had trouble getting past.
The only other real issue I have is the overreliance on having the actors voice what is happening. Granted, as an audio-based show, there are liberties you don’t have that novels or films do have, so you must do certain things differently. Nearly every time something happens where someone else goes on to describe in detail what happens, it, again, loses some of that authenticity it does a good job building. A specific moment is something that happens in Episode 12 “Over To You” when Rick does something to his body that can never be undone. It’s very clear through context clues and sounds what is going on, and then they have to have someone in the audience verbatim say what is happening. Again this is just one example of something that happens quite frequently.
You’re probably saying my two negatives about this show are tenuous at best, and you’re correct. I found it pretty difficult to find something about Quiet Part Loud that I didn’t like, though it would be disingenuous to give a five-star review to something I would probably give four and a half stars. Since I feel my due diligence is done, let’s talk about what this show does well.
So, the character of Rick is going to piss people off for different reasons. It will piss off the left for the violent and harmful rhetoric that Rick shares with many current politicians who hold office. And it will piss off the right because, more or less, Rick is the butt of the joke. These beliefs that he holds are the beliefs a lot of them hold. I have zero doubt in my mind this will be labeled “woke horror” and will be used as an example of “the politicization of horror,” that so many people constantly bitch about.
Rick’s character arc is very interesting, he spends the beginning of his career going after Muslims, as he thinks they’re the easiest target. When confronted with the spirit of another radio broadcaster who spent her time spreading anti-Japanese, as well as anti-Asian, hate after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which in turn [in this universe] sort of spawned the Japanese internment camps. For the character of Rick, he somewhat sees the folly of his ways through this interaction. While it doesn’t immediately cause a huge character development, it helps open his eyes to how impactful his words could be. Think of Rick as if Art Bell and Glenn Beck had a baby who was raised by Sean Hannity and whose godparents are Tucker Carlson and Marjorie Taylor Greene.
While the story is told linearly, there is sort of a disjunctive style to it. There is a specific character who gets introduced and should be a certain age but turn out to have a voice that doesn’t match the age. This was initially a bit of a throw-off for me, but it really built this level of intrigue. It would have gone down as a negative for me if they didn’t have an explanation for it, thankfully it ties together perfectly with the idea of The Blank. There is a perfect amount of characterization of The Blank and I think they do an excellent job at building up this faceless entity. There may have been a few bits of story, in regards to The Blank, that go unresolved, but we are given enough details to put together a full picture of what this thing is.
With Peele and Monkeypaw productions behind this you know it’s going to be quality. Some of the sounds made by The Blank felt a tad overproduced, and a bit too much, the production quality of Quiet Part Loud is top-notch. One of the biggest aspects of horror fiction podcasts is to emphasize the little things. Something as simple as footsteps echoing in an abandoned building will sell the story just as much as dialogue. If you want us to feel the environment and atmosphere you have to create the sound. Huge shoutout to the sound design team of Marcus Bagala, Daniel Brunelle, Shane Hendrickson, and Jonathon Roberts, as well as Roahn Hylton and Jacob Yoffee for composing the score. They were able to create the environments for our ears, making it very easy for our brains to fill in the spaces.
Under the direction of Mimi O’Donnell, we are graced with an insanely impressive 12-episode horror show. While I don’t agree this is the scariest podcast ever made, it is definitely up near the top of the list. For Monkeypaw’s first run at producing a podcast, I think the effort was a success; they were able to envelop us in a specifically crafted world for four hours of intense audibly stimulating horror. I really hope they decide to venture further down the podcast path, be it through another season of this or just a season of anything in general. It’s clear that Jordan Peele has an eye for horror and will truly go down as one of the greatest horror creators of our time.