The Grey Rooms Podcast
Reviewed by A.L. Kersel
The first mistake I made when listening to The Grey Rooms Podcast was listening to the opening of episode one while eating lunch. The second mistake I made was listening to the rest while walking back from a photography session in my local cemetery.
Seriously. Every flicker in the corner of my eye made me flinch. When it got so intense that I took my headphones off for a moment, each rustle of a potential rodent freaked me out so much that I put my headphones right back on. Listen to it and you will see what I mean. And I have a strong stomach for horror.
Heading (or should I say to blame for?) The Grey Rooms podcast are Jason Wilson, creator and sound engineer, and Brian Black, co-creator and writer. At this point, I have only listened to the first three episodes and the shorter promo episodes, both of which made my hands sweat. I’m actually glad I haven’t listened to more because I have too much to rave about to keep this review an appropriate length.
Without giving too much away, the narrative frame of each episode is from the point of view of a man who has woken up with no idea who or where he is. It transpires that he is imprisoned in The Grey Rooms, where a bone-shaking voice relentlessly commands him to pick a door. Behind each door is a story our narrator must live through as a form of torture, presumably as punishment for some heinous, forgotten crime.
The choose-your-own-adventure conceit works wonderfully as a technique to showcase some extremely tight horror writing. From the trenches of WW1, to a little girl’s teddy bear, and a broken-hearted woman who purchases a haunted rocking chair, these three very different stories all manage to blend abject horror with human tragedy. The grotesque is woven through with moments of genuine poignancy, and episode two, I loved my Human, by Mike Lee, is particularly harrowing. I will add as well that, where necessary, episodes contain a content disclaimer advising viewer discretion, which is appropriate here, given the intensity and subject matter.
The writing throughout all three is exceptional, lending each story a visceral feeling of immediacy. Episode one, The Great War, by Brian Black, ended with a flare of black humour which I enjoyed, and a perverse sense of human triumph despite…well…I’m not going to say what happens, so let’s just say, despite some very bad things. All the episodes merge varying elements of the supernatural with psychological and body horror, although episode three, They Don’t Make Them Like That Anymore, by Renfield Rasputin, is the closest to a traditional ghost story, and I loved the very Gothic nature of the ending.
What impressed (and horrified) me most is the way in which this podcast combines the strength of the writing with sound and some truly phenomenal voice acting. The sound effects and music hit just the right notes to conjure vivid scenes in my mind’s eye without distracting from the narrative at all. I heard some things which, to be honest, will haunt me until the day I die, so thank you for that. As well as this, the acting was consistently strong and never once broke the feeling of immersion. This includes some challenging accent work from Graham Rowat in episode one, as well as some heart-rending emotional scenes from Sarah Ruth Thomas and Victoria Juan in episodes two and three, so hats off to that.
The podcast also includes “Behind the Door” episodes in the off-weeks, which give you a look at what goes into making each episode. I will admit I haven’t really had time to listen too much yet, although I’ve heard enough to get the impression that they had a blast making these episodes, and I am looking forward to hearing more.
All in all, this podcast has been a brilliant, if slightly disturbing discovery. As the narrative frame carries through each episode, more and more is revealed about the prisoner, his captors, and the purpose of The Grey Rooms. I will leave it to you all to speculate what the hell is going on, and I will end by saying The Grey Rooms fully earns 10/10 for sheer spine-tingling, gut-wrenching, nauseating horror. Every element of storytelling is so cohesive that listening is an intensely physical experience, which is exactly what you want from a horror podcast, and exactly why you should not do as I did and listen while eating soup.
You can learn more about The Grey Rooms Podcast at their website.