I haven’t listened to that many narrative podcasts, but I kept seeing ads for The Narrow Caves, written by Director S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk & Brawl in Cell Block 99) brought to you by FANGORIA which promised an “ear-movie” experience, so I decided to give a try.
The Narrow Caves starts out in 1923, with a 10-year-old boy named Gregory who’s trying to save his beloved dog (HELLO A TRIGGER WARNING FOR DOG OWNERS MIGHT HAVE BEEN NICE HERE) from a mysterious stranger who lives in a series of underground caves near his house.
Skipping ahead to 1983, we meet Walter (Wyatt Russell) and his pal Jason at a party. They’re looking for “foxes” — a term used over and over by the men in this story for women, and a term that made me cringe every time. I get; it’s the ‘80s. But you know, it’s probably not necessary to use that as a device in order to reinforce the idea that these men are just at the party to get laid. That’s a given, right?
At the party, Walter meets Ruby (Lili Simmons), who immediately shuts him down (YUSSSS) — but after some back-and-forth over the course of the next few days, the two of them realize their attraction to each other is too strong to ignore, and the pair fall quickly in love. Ruby invites Walter to come back to her family home and meet her father (Vincent D’Onofrio) and that’s when all hell breaks loose, as her fam has been harboring some deep, dark secrets for the last 60 years.
Sold as “the first Audiostate every released, a new product combining the grandiosity of Hollywood films with the intimacy of audio to create an “ear-movie” experience,” The Narrow Caves does paint a really vivid picture in your head. I found myself turning the volume WAYYYY DOWN on the sex scenes even though I had headphones in, just in case someone could overhear on my commute.
Speaking of sex scenes, there is a very freaky sex act that happens as the action is starting to ramp up … while listening, it felt completely unnecessary and just way out of place, but thinking about where the story ends up, it does make a little more sense. I’m a big fan of Zahler’s work, but in general there’s always at least one thing in each of his works that makes me go, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!” and in this podcast, that sex scene was it.
The story is narrated by Will Patton, and he does a fantastic job of guiding you around its twists and turns. Initially I was put off by narrator’s repetition of “the lanky fellow” and “the pale woman,” but after the second episode I leaned into it as a storytelling device and everything clicked together. The voice acting is also exquisite – ALL HAIL VINCENT D’ONFORIO! – especially as it ramps up towards its insane ending, and the score by Binary Reptile provides just the right kind of 80s synthy-Carpenter’esque goodness.
But really the reason it all works; the reason I keep thinking about it and remembering pieces of it, is because it did such an excellent job of keeping me on the edge of suspense, wondering exactly what was going to happen — and not being able to anticipate literally ANYTHING that did. The Narrow Caves descends into total insanity by it’s last episode, and I would listen to it again and again.