We all have tropes that we particularly like. For myself, I personally like stories about polar exploration, lost ancient civilisations, and the rediscovery of those lost ancient civilisations. Add some creepy supernatural elements, a great cast of voice actors, and a diverse set of characters and you’ll have me completely hooked. It’s for these reasons that I devoured all four seasons of the White Vault. This review will contain spoilers so read on at your own risk.
I first heard about the White Vault when it was recommended on Old Gods of Appalachia (another good podcast about Lovecraftian horrors in the Appalachian mountains). After listening to the first episode I knew I was on to a winner. The first two seasons, set in Svalbard which, for those who don’t know, is a frozen archipelago north of Norway. There are no native inhabitants besides the various wildlife which includes polar bears, foxes, and a cute species of bird called a Ptarmigan. Fans of Phillip Pullmans Dark Materials series will recognise the island from the first book, the Northern Lights (known as the Golden Compass in America).
The series starts with a repair team being sent to fix a research station which has become damaged. This proves to be a pretty simple task, but what they soon discover beneath the ice makes causes their brief mission to become far more eventful. What follows is a terrifying, gripping, and engaging story employing immersive soundscapes which serve to make you feel like you’re right there with the characters. The story is presented as audio recordings and journal entries made by the repair team who are required to document their time at the research station. A mysterious English woman known as the Documentarian explains these notes to the listener and carries you through the story.
Seasons 3 and 4 shift the location from the frigid north to the Patagonian Andes. This mountainous setting, which first disappointing me for the sole reason that the story was no longer set on Svalbard (a minor personal complaint), proved to be just as enticing as the first two seasons. Foreboding tunnels, mysterious glyphs carved into the mountain side, colossal statues which move around when unobserved, terrible skeletons of unidentifiable species, or recognisable skeletons of impossible sizes. The White Vault seems to be tailored to appeal directly to my own personal tastes.
One aspect about the show I found to be particularly inspired is the way they utilise language. Most of the characters speak languages other than English (including Spanish, German, Russian, Portuguese, and Icelandic) and when a character is speaking in a different language, the dialogue will slowly fade into English. This brilliant method indicates to us which language they are speaking in, while allowing us to understand what is being said.
On the whole this show is well crafted, intelligently written, and a great horror/fantasy story. I would recommend it to anyone who likes mystery, suspense, and horror. The White Vault is a brilliant show and I can’t wait for the final season in October.
Written By Tim Baker