Interesting characters, believable acting, and a poignant story set Palimpsest a cut above the rest in the world of audio drama. Told mostly through the voice of one character, Season One of Palimpsest delves into the dark side of the human experience through an intimate examination of one girl’s multiple hauntings that both moves and spooks the listener.
The word “palimpsest” in this context conceptualizes an idea that our own memories and experiences and those of others constantly layer on top of one another, and that the ghosts of our pasts may be buried or painted over, but never truly erased. Season One’s main character, Anneliese, breathes the idea to life by bringing her own ghosts with her into a haunted house.
Co-creator and star Hayley Heninger absolutely sells the character. She delivers an emotionally brilliant performance of a young woman trying to live with her ghosts. Atop a moody, ambient score, her narrative confessions burn the wick of suspense in a candle of dense atmosphere.
While the writing has been dramatically sculpted and isn’t totally authentic dialogue, the modifications are purposeful and well executed. The character describes certain scenes in order to put the listener there with her, incorporating dramatic pauses and vivid detail. Sometimes this can feel unrealistic, but the experiential component pays off with heightened tension.
Melancholic and atmospheric, Palimpsest carefully constructs its settings and moods with key narrative details, dramatic storytelling, and strategic use of music and sound. For example, when Anneliese reveals what she saw behind her in the bathroom mirror, a rhythmic bass bump invokes her beating heart and pulls the listener into the suspense. Musical cues provide a sentimental backdrop to her pleasant memories, alert the listener to a new clue, or send a chill down our spines at just the right moment. The experience saturates the listener’s awareness without visual help.
Beyond the technical skills of the actor and sound designer, the writer skillfully crafts the story. Jamieson Ridenhour, horror writer and playwright, has written scripts like Grave Lullaby and The House of Yaga that explore how ghost stories and folklore are expressions of our own dark sides. Ridenhour invokes his understanding of both horror and theatre by sculpting a series of compelling and suspenseful monologues. The creators are not afraid to go deep into painful and terrifying experiences, but they focus on the emotional turmoil of the protagonist rather than shocking or upsetting the listener. Ridenhour announces a trigger warning at the beginning of episodes that do feature graphic descriptions of disturbing content. While the scenes are upsetting, they are beautifully and tastefully described.
The themes explored in Palimpsest provide a unique take on a classic genre. Certain pieces of dialogue periodically remind the listener that the narrator may not be fully reliable, especially when memory is concerned. Ghosts that haunt the old house may feed off the ghosts of one’s own of guilt and regret. All of us, undead or alive, seek the same things: repentance, forgiveness, and meaning.
Palimpsest is a slow-burning exploration of pain, memory, and otherworldly mysteries. Those wanting a sense of deep intimacy with a relatable protagonist, creepy moments to tingle the spine, and a philosophical and metaphysical examination of grief will find joy in this simple but artful audio drama.