A 24-hour diner materializes on the side of the highway and houses a sparse group of people whose names can be found in the local cemetery. A couple disappears in the woods on the night of the annual Celery Festival, just steps away from the old witch’s altar.
You can hear old songs coming out of the radiator, but the lyrics are completely different than they used to be. A locked door sometimes appears in the basement of the old boarding house, and no one knows where it leads.
These are all things a listener encounters in the world of “Unwell: A Midwestern Gothic Mystery,” which was created by HartLife NFP and which has just begun its second season this fall. Seasons 1 and 2 are already published online, and season three is confirmed for the future. Fans of horror and the classic gothic novel will be delighted, and those craving a little seasonal spooky content this fall might become newly initiated gothic novel fans themselves.
“Unwell” is a theatrical podcast, meaning that characters are portrayed by actors, and the dialogue is scripted, not unlike other podcasts such as the space-inspired Wolf 359. A haunting soundtrack sets the mood, and footsteps, creaking doors and rustling wind create the scenery. Those whose favorite podcasts are conversational, storytelling, or educational will be pleasantly surprised at the transformative nature of this art form. By simply closing their eyes, “Unwell” transports listeners to the sleepy town of Mount Absalom, Ohio, and opens them up to a cast of intriguing characters.
The show centers around Lilian (Shariba Rivers), a young woman who returns to her hometown to take care of her mother, who was injured and is becoming increasingly forgetful. Her mother (Marsha Harman) runs the town’s boarding house, which is home to several quirky personalities: a doctoral student named Abbie (Kathleen Hoil) who is slowly uncovering a town conspiracy, an astrologist hoping to rebuild the abandoned town telescope and, finally, a mysterious young teenager who works in the boarding house, appears to have no home address and never seems to age.
Each time Lilian and her mother uncover a town mystery, another, bigger question takes its place. Why can they hear wolves at night, even though there are no wolves in Ohio? Where does the locked door in the basement lead to? What happens to the people who go into the woods and never come out?
While the actors’ voices bring the story to life, the real heroes of “Unwell” are the sound and audio crew who piece together music, footsteps, voices and other sounds that perfect the listening experience. While each character has a distinct voice, audience members can further distinguish from each personality because of the unique voice editing for ghostly characters and otherworldly entities.
While “Unwell” is a captivating story, the haunting plot is only one of many reasons to fall in love with the production. For one, it is a great way to support coronavirus-friendly art. The show is produced remotely, and all the acting and production is conducted online, keeping the cast safe from workplace risk. For those who appropriately feel that workers should not be forced to endanger themselves in order to keep their jobs in the pandemic, the podcast is a way to ethically consume art.
Another reason to love this podcast is for its commitment to diversity. The cast is LGBTQ, racially and nationally diverse and represents all ages and physical abilities. “Unwell” does diversity the right way — in the modern era, we should be able to make art about minorities that is not simply about being a minority. The main character is an LGBTQ Black woman, but the show is not about being LGBTQ and Black. While stories about the adversity faced by minority groups in America are important, sometimes the best representation is art that expects more of its audience and knows that being a minority is not just a plot point.
While “Unwell” is intended to give audience members the creeps, it is absolutely doable for those who don’t do the ultra-scary. In addition, each episode will have specific content warnings. “Unwell” is most suitable for young adults and up, as it does contain swearing and “adult themes” such as “dating, yelling at your mom, and owing taxes.”
The student body already knows that Halloween will not be the same in 2020. There will be far fewer costume parties and little to no embassy trick-or-treating. There is still, however, a great way to give yourself a good scare and get into the holiday mood. No trick, “Unwell” is a pure treat.
For special pictures of the production process and the cast and crew, the “Unwell” tumblr account can be found here: https://unwellpodcast.tumblr.com/post/183029641692/the-hartlife-nfp-cast-and-crew-celebrates-the