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LORE is an Unsettling Look at the Lives Behind Our Legends (Review)

LORE is an Unsettling Look at the Lives Behind Our Legends (Review)

If October is a time for crawling skin, whispers on the wind, and heaving breaths, Lore is a nice little slice of October. The series buries you up to your neck in unstoppable diseases, souls that stay in the body after death, doctors who want to tear your brain apart, cursed dolls, and loved ones who are convinced you’ve been replaced by a demon.

The good news is all the stories are true.

Lore connects our superstitions to our history with curiosity and unease, treating our capacity for (often unwitting) harm both as a thing of great reverence and as a specimen to be smashed under the microscope. The result is a tonal balance that’s either frighteningly informative or educationally terrifying depending on which direction you come from. Lore‘s best skill is explaining the magic trick while still confounding us. It uses facts to deepen the reason for our fears instead of waving them away.

That’s because the supernatural elements the show explores are always masking something scientific that’s still greatly terrifying.

Lore is also unique among televisual projects. Despite the growing number of podcasts becoming TV shows, the popular campfire series from Aaron Mahnke is the first narrative-based podcast to make the leap onto screens. The key to surviving that jump in tact was keeping the spirit of the podcast and its unique presentation of real-life horrors alive.

The first episode, “They Made a Tonic,” exemplifies everything that works best about the show. The episode tells the story of a farmer named George Brown (Campbell Scott) whose entire family is struck down by Consumption in the mid-1800s, and as his son lays dying, his neighbors convince him to exhume the bodies of his children to see if they’re truly, completely dead, fearing one may be a secret vampire spreading the disease.

First of all, there’s the story itself. The choice is a beautiful one, filled with raw human fear that nags at our lizard brain and allows a modern audience to roll its eyes at the quaintness of antique medical practices while wondering what ignorance we might die from. Lore explores the time period, offering us information about Tuberculosis and the state of scientific advancements all while reminding us that George is a father who has lost everyone to a disease he can’t control. Wouldn’t you try everything you could to save your child? Even if it meant the previously unthinkable?

And what he does really is unthinkable. Lore knows this and mines it for all its worth. Throughout the first three episodes, its structure (beyond weaving biographical and scientific information into its spooky stories) is to scratch at an itch until the finger is covered in blood and scraping the bone. Each story opens by showing us the loose thread, knowing that, by the end of it all, we will have followed it down a well to surprising depths. The show gains a lot by making us wonder when the next shoe will drop, and it always saves the heaviest for last.

There’s also Mahnke’s one-of-a-kind voiceover–a mainstay of the podcast that acts as expert instructor and spirit guide for the series. Fans of the pod know it well, and the show has done something fantastically clever in recognizing its central role: hiring actors like Scott (and Colm Feore Holland Roden and others) who can convey a thought or feeling with just a look. In one sense, this is of paramount importance, because the show would be lost because those actors are charged with connecting us to history by allowing us to connect to the real person who lived it.

That knowledge is the tingle at the back of your neck while you watch, and without it, the show’s spark would be dimmer.

For a similar reason, the show gets a lot of mileage out of its dramatizations, but its historical footage is worth its weight in gold. The dramatic sequences give us the story, but the photographs and footage give us the history, which has an unfair advantage in its ability to shake us out of our seats. For example, the second episode, “Echoes,” features Feore as a doctor who pioneers a method of trans-orbital lobotomy. His work is unnerving, but the real-life footage of the procedure included in the episode is legitimately difficult to watch.

The fact that history packs a bigger punch is a reason why Lore works so well. Showrunner Glen Morgan and the production team clearly understood the need to lean into that strength, amplifying it with their narrative instead of diminishing it with cheap tricks. So you get some education and some mythology, and both should make you shiver.

Lore is available to stream on Amazon starting Friday, October 13th.

4 out of 5 burned heart burritos:

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Images: Amazon Prime Studios

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