Sometimes the truth is more frightening than fiction. So is the mantra of the outstanding non-fiction podcast Lore. A couple of years on from its launch, with 5-million monthly listeners and a deserved iTunes award under its belt comes a spinoff TV show of the same name, direct from Amazon Video. Yes, it’s still regularly spine-chilling. But no, it doesn’t exactly make the transition seamlessly.
On the upside, the podcast’s creator/narrator Aaron Mahnke is back; with his dulcet tones and earnest approach to storytelling, he’s as likeable as ever. And he’s here to bestow upon us six slices of horrific television. Unlike with the podcast branch of the ever-growing Lore tree, however, he’s not alone this time around. Whereas the bi-weekly audio show is written, produced and narrated solely by Mahnke, the TV show arrives with a bit more baggage. Episode lengths have expanded with the move, doubling from around twenty minutes to forty, and with the additional time comes the biggest of all of the changes: added dramatic reconstructions.
A standard slice of the Lore podcast is much akin to a tightly-woven spooky tale told around the campfire. Mahnke opens with a hook, dipping the audience’s toes into a series of tales related to each week’s overarching theme. From there he takes a deep-dive into the larger narrative, be it the real-life origins of vampires, accounts of serial killers or the truth behind the supernatural, with horror and history intertwining perfectly, wrapping it all up nicely with another big juicy hook. The Lore TV show, on the other hand, takes a more sprawling approach.
The narration is retained, now welcomingly accompanied by some gorgeous animation (in Passing Notes and They Made A Tonic in particular), along with fascinating documentary-style footage and a beautiful score from Chad Lawson (who fans of the podcast will be familiar with). All of which comes together to make for an effectively creepy mix. Thrown on top of that though is a series of live-action reenactments of the events described. The main issue being that it all tends to get a little busy, with these sections usually detracting from, rather than adding to the sense of fear. When successful, such as in the season closer (and best episode) Unboxed, the dramatisations flow smoothly in and out of the narration. Yet more often than not, the characters simply rather just act as Mahnke’s surrogate, replacing his intricate storytelling with on the nose exposition. The production values are solid, with convincing set and costume design, and on the whole, the performances are strong (barring the odd few overwrought moments), yet these segments do little to enhance the format. If anything they have a tendency to make it feel more like a high-budget reboot of ITV’s Strange But True than a Lore spinoff.
I can’t help but feel that it would have been better off removing the reconstructions altogether, with the strengths of the podcast being focussed on instead. Mahnke is already capable of painting a picture with words alone. When his words are combined with the impressive animation, music, sound and real-life footage, Lore becomes a scary, gripping, audiovisual feast. A leaner version concentrated on just these elements would likely have come with a wholehearted recommendation.
Sure, sometimes the truth is more frightening than fiction. And sometimes, stories are better suited to podcasts than they are to television. That’s certainly the case here.
Rating (out of 5):
Originally posted as part of 13 Days of Horror:
“13 Days of Horror, a countdown of spooky thrills and spills…
For more horrific delights, check out the other entries in the 13 Days of Horror series here.