"This is not a story. It's a road trip." So begins the first episode of Alice Isn't Dead, the new serialized horror podcast by Welcome to Night Vale co-creator Joseph Fink. The ten-part series recently published the final chapter of part one on July 12. So now is the perfect time to dedicate a lazy afternoon, or preferably a dark and stormy night, to binge-listening to this creepy and delightfully queer tale of dark discovery.
After four years of episodes, a best-selling novel and countless sold-out live shows, Welcome to Night Vale creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor set out to produce original podcasts of their own under the umbrella of The Night Vale Presents Network. The first new podcast to hit the internet is Fink’s Alice Isn't Dead, a frightening trek set on the long stretches of America's lost highways. Over the course of ten half-hour episodes, listeners are treated to a thriller full of possibly supernatural creatures, probably haunted cities and perhaps even a bit of a nationwide conspiracy.
Alice revolves around a mournful truck driver ( from television’s Fringe) riddled with a nearly crippling anxiety disorder, traveling from one mid-sized town to another delivering cargo as mundane as crates filled with travel sized deodorant. The cargo, however, is merely a means to an end. She's really looking for her long since missing and presumed-dead wife, Alice. A flash of her wife's face on a television news program is enough to send our protagonist on a perilous journey that takes her from coast to coast in a haze of lonely strip malls and abandoned factories.
The first episode, "Omelet”, begins in medias res as Nicole's truck driver is distractedly speeding down the highway after having escaped a terrifying stranger who abruptly and menacingly cuts her breakfast at a roadside diner short with a bit of good old-fashioned cannibalism. Like cars on a highway, the action of Alice goes from zero to 60 in a flash.
As she crosses state and county lines, the nameless cargo-hauler mourns the wife she thought she knew and discovers reserves of strength within herself that she never imagined having. The protagonist's experiences as a queer woman of color navigating the Bible Belt add an unfortunate sense of danger that feels all too real. Listeners often find themselves equally as worried that she will be consumed by the evil of the supernatural as they are the terror of everyday bigotry. This is a story that loudly resonates for queer people. At times horrific and at times hopeful, reconciling the good and bad of one’s past with their future is something LGBT people can all relate to. Alice Isn't Dead is as much a meditation on grief as it is a journey of self-discovery.
With a top-notch artistic team and lush production values, this podcast unfolds with an ever-deepening mystery that is equal parts shiver-inducing and heartbreaking. Very little in Alice Isn't Dead is safe and nothing satisfying is guaranteed.
Front and center is openly queer actressJasika Nicole. With a soft and inviting voice, this talented performer makes the listeners feel as if they’re riding right alongside her. Nicole manages to balance the fear of a new world before her and the weight of her demons past in an evocative performance using only the timbre of her voice.
Underneath Nicole's searing performance is the masterful writing of Joseph Fink. A project with a scope this large, full of countless supernatural twists and existential turns, could easily derail into an epic mess with no clear throughline. Fink avoids disaster with scripts that careen from the poetic to the macabre, all the while teetering just on the edge of excess but never losing control.
Co-producer and composer Disparition (a.k.a Jon Bernstein), well known to the fans of Night Vale, adds to the already high-calibre production with his eerie but gorgeous music. Full of synth and grit, the score to Alice Isn't Dead deftly amplifies the grotesque doom of Fink and Nicole's work.
Alice Isn't Dead crafts a masterful journey full of terror and grief surrounded by shadows and all things unearthly. Listeners brave enough to ride along on this road trip will find themselves forced to confront their past while heading forward to destinations unknown.
LQQK Rating: Quality: 4.5/5 Queerness: 6/6 Kinseys
Alice Isn't Dead is available to listen to on iTunes, at www.nightvalepresents.com or your favorite podcast app. And if you like Alice Isn't Dead, please make sure to leave a review of your own as they are crucial to keep podcasts on the charts, making it easier for new listeners to discover them.