Unbeaten Path didn’t come to life in order to be a “pod play”, which it has been dubbed by creator John Holowach. In fact, the pod play existed simply to help bring attention to the script for the movie. But as life would have it, sometimes the best things come about by accident. The pod play version of Unbeaten Path has proven to be it’s own work of art that need not act as a crutch for a film (though we hope to see a cinematic version in the future).
One of the first things you notice about Unbeaten Path is the quality of voice acting. A lot of effort has been put into the performances, especially Sam, who I immediately started envisioning as Brad Carter. The longer you listen, the more you begin to understand why John calls this a pod play and not an audiobook. As the listener, you don’t have to exert much effort in envisioning these characters. They are masterfully brought to life in your mind’s eye. I caught myself casting the entire “movie” before it was even halfway done. Furthermore, they went the extra step to add in sound effects, which are wonderfully executed. Anything from wind blowing, steps falling, or guns firing is all in there to further facilitate the immersion. Give it twenty minutes and you will be sucked in.
We start Unbeaten Path with your very stereotypical Western trope of a train being robbed. It’s not my favorite, but it’s handled well and not over the top. Initially it feels like too many characters are being thrown at you, but it quickly narrows down to the core group of outlaws and the men hired to hunt them down. Mercifully, this does not become some sort of John Wayne saga. Every character has a dynamic personality, with their own motivations that exist outside the realm of purely pushing plot. It would have been easy to have a story that simply revolves around the group dynamics of our characters, but of course we wouldn’t be talking about it here would we? Instead, we are treated to a blood-thirsty Yeti. This is a killer-Yeti Western, I shit you not. The creature is described exactly how you hope, though you didn’t know it. This isn’t a goofy ape hanging out on a mountain top. This is a thing of teeth, claws, and rage. Torn between gold, heavy pursuit, and a terrible monstrosity, decisions are made that lead to dire consequences for both parties. As one would expect, characters start dropping left and right, but thankfully you are never sure who is punching their ticket next until the bitter end. And it is a satisfying end.
This whole project could have easily been a disaster. It’s a Western, has a Yeti, and was all recorded in a single night, the cast and crew huddled together in an old church (somewhat fitting). Somehow, someway, that’s not what happens. Despite loving the unique approach, I had my doubts. Half an hour in, and those doubts were decidedly silenced. What was left was a compelling approach to storytelling. By the end, my brain was making comparisons to John Carpenter’s The Thing, and I don’t believe that to be hyperbole. At one point I actually jumped, I was so engrossed. I’m not sure if there are other “pod plays” out there, but I do know I wouldn’t mind listening to more if they’re done with this level of detail. John Holowach has brought his vision to life a la Orson Welles, and I can’t wait to see what he does when he’s behind the lens.
You can grab your own copy of Unbeaten Path here, http://unbeaten-path.com/, and support some very creative people in the process.
Unbeaten Path [Review]
I’m not a big fan of Westerns, but dammit if this didn’t take me on a hell of a journey. I will definitely be playing this again during long commutes.