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A Listener Reviews: The White Vault

The White Vault

Episodes: 38 so far, with ten each in the first two seasons. Also has some between season mini-episodes.

Length: 20-30 minutes, generally

I’ve listened to… Through what has been released of season 3.

The Premise: The story starts out following an expedition to a remote monitoring site outside of Svalbard. Once there, the team is stranded and discovers a strange city under the ice. Which is only the start of their problems. Made up of found audio files from the team, The White Vault tells a great horror tale about isolation, ancient evil, and survival.

My Review: The White Vault is one of those podcasts that was recommended every time I turned around, so I finally gave it a listen. And then became one of the people recommending it regularly.  The story initially begins innocently enough as the characters and expectations are introduced. However, there is a general sense of unease which begins building early and develops over the course of the story. The outpost they travel to is very remote, and that alone is enough to establish a sense of foreboding. It is unsettling to know how disconnected they are, and that builds as natural and supernatural phenomena coalesce to make departure much more difficult. The creeping sense of threat is executed well, starting with small and easily dismissed oddities.  It builds as the danger begins to take a more definite shape and the peril that the team is in comes into sharper focus.

A story like this really shines based on its characters. Isolation horror with a poorly developed cast is not very satisfying. But each character that has been introduced in the world of The White Vault has been well-developed and engaging. The story works because, as a listener, you are invested in what happens to the character you have grown fond of. They each have unique goals, values, hobbies, and interpersonal styles that help them to stand out as unique characters, but also create their unique predisposing risk factors.

Also, the sound quality and effects are great in this. Audiodrama relies a lot on environmental storytelling, and having only auditory input can make that a real challenge. The White Vault skillfully uses sound effects and background conversations to provide more context to the script. AS a listener, you have the chance to hear it and then have that confirmed, so you get the sense of discovery alongside them. In addition, the dialogue is done in a way that feels natural, but also fills in the gaps. I rarely find myself confused by what is happening because I cannot parse a sound effect, but even when I’m unsure, the dialogue is crafted well enough to very naturally fill in any gaps.  It does also include a narrator providing some additional context regarding time, locations, and organization, but does so in a very skilled way. The narrator does not feel like a cop out or a short cut to good audio storytelling, but instead serves to enhance it and create yet another layer of mystery about how and why these tapes came to be collected.

If I had to make a criticism, I would say things sometimes feel a little convenient to the plot or anticipated. Season three is structurally quite similar to season one, but it has been unique in it’s own right as well. Just when you think you have it figured out, something comes flying from the shadows to turn things upside down. So I have not found it to be overly predictable or stale as it has developed, but it definitely has a storytelling language that points the way. Personally, I have found learning the language of the story to be very enjoyable. Speaking of language, one really interesting thing is the use of language. The team members are from all different locales, and so it weaves in all kinds of languages. All relevant information is translated into English (with the exception of some chatter or non-central dialogue–I’m pretty sure), so you’ll know what is going on. But as someone who loves languages, I enjoy hearing the different ones and trying to do my own translation for those I do speak.

The White Vault tells a really creepy story in an expertly paced fashion. Horror and isolation are natural fits, and this is a great example of why they work so well. In my neck of the woods, it’s been pretty cold. And I’ve found that I keep craving more episodes to submerge myself in the icy, terrifying world and learn what comes next. The anticipation in season three is killing me, and so I am hanging on eagerly for each episode. If you like horror, ancient mysteries, exploration, or that creepy and lonely feeling, The White Vault delivers in a big way.

You can find them here: The White Vault