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The unnerving horror of BBC Radio 4’s Lusus

This is a slick drama which explores relatable inner demons: loneliness, ageing, eco-angst – but I’m not sure I can take it.

By Rachel Cunliffe

As someone whose anxiety is so bad it makes Black Mirror unbearable, I was always going to find Lusus an interesting experience. A horror drama from BBC Radio 4, it aims to play on “modern-day fears and anxieties rather than the usual monsters, ghosts and ghouls”. Each of the eight episodes focuses on a scarily relatable inner demon: loneliness, hypochondria, ageing, eco-angst. 

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The first episode is all about “fomo” (the fear of missing out) – 25-year-old Noa (Patsy Ferran) is so terrified of opportunities passing her by that she can never enjoy what she’s actually doing. “Why do all the best songs come on when you’re in the queue outside?” she moans, having bailed on her mum’s birthday party to go clubbing with her friends. In her desperation, she googles “is it possible to be in two places at the same time?”, thus unleashing an ominous doppelgänger who will (somewhat predictably) teach her to be careful about what she wishes for.

It sounds silly to be unnerved by a radio show but the audio effects are deeply unsettling, from the creepy mindfulness-esque voiceover at the start promising “You’re in safe hands” to the breathless, heart-thumping conclusion. (It’s unclear exactly what has happened to Noa but the soundscape tells us we’ve reached a climax, and our imaginations fill in the rest.) This isn’t a twee morality tale, and writers Rachel C Zisser and Samantha Newton expertly manipulate the horror genre to make monsters out of everyday life.

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These standalone episodes are all linked by the same mysterious door which seems to be the gateway to the phantoms haunting the protagonists. Noa’s story ends with the question: “Is it locking something out, or is it keeping us locked in?” According to the show’s creators, if you listen to the whole series you can piece together the puzzle and figure out what lies behind the door. But I’m not sure I can take it. Lusus is beautifully acted and slickly produced, but I feel there’s enough real-life horror in the world right now without it taking over my podcasts too.

[See also: Gary Oldman is gripping as a scrofulous spy leading a last chance saloon of M15 agents]

BBC Radio 4,
available on BBC Sounds

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This article appears in the 04 May 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Dictating the Future