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Ella is a cheerful, happy young woman who is about to get married. On a hike with close friends and family members, something…breaks. Everything breaks. One of them sees Ella walk off into a desert. Another sees her disappear into jungle. Her fiance sees her brutally killed. Six people watch the same event. Six people see six different events. And slowly, six people realize how much that event has changed them.
I’m at the stage now where I’ll listen to or read anything with Jamie Killen’s name on it. Spines and Mirrors, the other two Zoomdoom shows to date number among some of the very best horror audio fiction on the planet right now and Jamie’s combination of unsettling tone, complex puzzle piece stories and versatility means that Zoomdoom shows have a house style but never a house tone. Mirrors is a multi-time period ghost story. Spines is a Cronenbergian transhuman fever dream. Six Disappearances, so far, is far more mercurial but no less impressive.
In the wake of the disappearance, all six witnesses are given a recorder to note down thoughts as they occur to them. A framing narration from one of the investigating officers gives us some subtle clues about how things are going to go but for the most part the show trusts you to follow the immediate reactions of its characters. Plus Killen is so good that there’s very little ‘LOOK! AT THAT ROCK! THAT IS MOVING!’ type dialogue. You’re in the moment, just like the characters.You hear what they hear. You miss what they miss. Sometimes.
The witnesses are a memorable bunch too, brought to life by another Zoomdoom staple; a top flight cast. Lucille Valentine’s work as July, one of Ella’s best friends, is a particular standout and the later half of the season especially gives her lots of really good stuff to work with. Likewise Nathan Emley as Dalton, Ella’s fiance. The two characters arc around one another in the subtlest of ways, simultaneously unified by tragedy and divided by perception. The whole cast are this good and its especially great to hear Lucy Pierce of Mirrors here in a very different but no less impressive role.
But what really puts Six Disappearances over the top for me is the way the show combines elegance and tension. The trans and asexual characters are just that, characters, rather than tokens of diversity and their interactions are among the highlights of the show. The, arguably necessary, abuse of trust by a third character has lasting and real consequences for the plot and the people trying to survive it. Best of all, Killen absolutely hits the nail on the head with the atmosphere. This is a profoundly unsettling show and the final episode of the season in particular is a textbook presentation in how to pull a rabbit out of a hat no one even noticed was on stage. This is complex, ambitious confident work and it clearly knows exactly where it’s going. Getting there is never a relaxing ride but it’s most certainly a fun one. I have so many theories and I cannot wait for season 2 to disprove them ALL.