As horror fans know all too well, sometimes the most terrifying monsters are places: Riverdale (the town with pep that’s also the murder capital of the world), Hill House (whatever walks there walks alone), Twin Peaks, Salem’s Lot — atmospheric horror wreathes these landmarks and towns. There’s not one beast to eradicate, everything is infected.
Such is the case with the upcoming horror podcast Borrasca, which was created by The Haunting of Hill House writer Rebecca Klingel and stars Cole Sprouse, who plays Jughead in the dark, campy Archie Comics TV series Riverdale. Borrasca premieres May 25th via QCode, and its cast also includes Sarah Yarkin, Daniel Webber, Lulu Wilson, Beau Knapp, Lisa Edelstein, Aramis Knight, Cara Santana, Seychelle Gabriel and Peyton Kennedy.
“The environment and the setting is just as big a character as the protagonist,” Sprouse, who is also a producer on the podcast, tells Rolling Stone. “We wanted Borrasca to also feel like a character in this radio play.”
Sprouse plays protagonist Sam Walker, who moves to Drisking, Missouri with his family as a kid. After he befriends residents Kyle and Kimber, Walker visits a strange treehouse in the woods steeped in local lore: Before entering, you must carve your name into the tree or risk disappearing. After Sam’s sister Whitney goes missing — along with several other people — he and his friends team up to find out what’s really going on in their town.
Klingel wrote the original Borrasca story in 2015 as a novella that she portioned out on Reddit’s No Sleep forum. The story went viral and soon attracted the attention of director Mike Flanagan, who recruited Klingel to write for the 2018 Netflix TV show, The Haunting of Hill House. Initially only 22,000 words, the story has now been expanded into an eight-part podcast.
“I lived in Missouri for a short time and the Ozarks have this just kind of heavy feeling of quiet mystery,” Klingel tells Rolling Stone. “I always found that so intriguing. When I moved there, I felt a bit of a culture shock and I wanted to play with that with the main character of the story. There’s something hidden in these mountains.”
Sprouse — who practically grew up in front of the camera — jumped at the chance to try his hand at voice acting. “With acting, you can end up relying too much on the visual cues,” he says. “When it comes to voice acting, you don’t have that crutch to rely upon — a quivering lip, a tear. Not to completely out myself as a massive dork, but video games have always kind of been my medium of choice when I was a child. I’d always wanted to step into that sort of arena.”
Sprouse, 27, is used to playing younger roles. In Borrasca he plays Sam at age 17 and 25. His character on Riverdale is also 17, and in his most recent film role, 2019’s Five Feet Apart, he plays another 17-year-old, Will Newman, a teen with cystic fibrosis. “I don’t really mind, to be honest,” Sprouse says of playing characters 10 years his junior. “I mean, now that we’re going into Riverdale season five I don’t know how much longer I can pull off 17. I don’t think it’s something I concern myself with too much, though.”
“A lot of the young characters I’ve played — especially for something like Riverdale — are so based in a campiness that’s almost become part of the genre — being an older actor playing a younger character,” he adds. “The only time I would stop myself is if it obviously took the audience out of the viewing experience. I think I have about a year and a half [of playing a teen left] now that my mustache is coming in.”
Initially, the Borrasca team intended to release the series at a later date, but due to the spread of the coronavirus, they decided to drop the show now, when people are in need of escapism and entertainment. Both Klingel and Sprouse are turning to the arts during quarantine to take their minds off COVID-19: Klingel is reading thrillers, like Riley Sager’s The Last Time I Lied, while Sprouse has burned his way through the Criterion Collection and is now furiously crafting. Klingel also recently wrapped the next season of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, based on Henry James’ 1898 novel The Turn of the Screw.
“I found that we’ve turned to the arts tremendously during this time,” Sprouse says. “We turn to our television and our films, to crafts and video games. When we talked about Borrasca we sat down and said, ‘Hey, look, I know production could continue on this and we could really polish it up, but I know people are hungry for this content right now.’ People want to sit down and listen to something that maybe helps them distract themselves — lets them immerse themselves into another world.”