news Why the Horrors of ‘Evil’ Sound Unlike Anything Else on TV

Evil” began strong, smuggling complex moral, spiritual, and sociopolitical issues into its procedural format with wit and style, and it has only gotten deeper, more moving, and more frightening over the course of three seasons. By focusing on a team of three investigators — forensic psychologist Dr. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers), newly ordained priest David (Mike Colter), and tech expert Ben (Aasif Mandvi) — who the Catholic Church has hired to look into various unexplainable occurrences, series creators Robert and Michelle King are able to deliver a sophisticated inquiry into the nature of belief and the origins of evil on a weekly basis, in a show that’s often diabolically funny as well as heartbreakingly tragic and poignant.

When it comes to delivering the horror-show goods, the most recent episode, “Demon of the Road,” is a case study in what “Evil” does best. The three leads head out to a long stretch of lonely highway, where several long-haul truckers have reported being followed by supernatural forces. Once on the road, Kristen, David, and Ben are quickly plunged into a mystery as chilling voices and sounds of unknown origin start coming through the radio, and David has visions of a terrifying winged creature. The driving sequences are masterful self-contained exercises in tension, as the filmmakers rattle the viewers’ nerves with a combination of eerie night exterior work by cinematographer Petr Hlinomaz and the meticulously calibrated rhythms of editor Dan Erickson.

Yet what really elevates the set pieces in “Demon of the Road” is the sound design, which is not only viscerally shocking but has to operate on two levels at once. One of the frequent challenges “Evil” poses for its creators — and one of the consistent pleasures it provides its audience — comes from the conceit that each mystery could theoretically be paranormal or mundanely natural in its origin and solution; we never know until the end of the episode if the mysterious events under investigation have been created by unknowable forces or old-fashioned human trickery, and the stories have to be plausible either way to keep the viewer guessing. “I compare the show to an adult ‘Scooby-Doo,’” re-recording mixer Andy Kris told IndieWire. “They’re trying to figure out who’s behind this stuff and when they unmask the villain it’s just some kid doing stupid things.”

For Kris and fellow re-recording mixer Chris Chae, having to come up with sounds that have an otherworldly quality yet can exist in nature is one of the joys of working on “Evil.” “With all that radio stuff, I love that we get to create lo-fi, analog-type interference sounds,” Kris said. “We rarely get to do that sort of thing anymore.” Kris added that playing with sounds that have a basis in reality and then gently tweaking them with plug-ins like Speakerphone allows him to blur the line for the audience so that they have to ask whether what they’re hearing is real or just in their and the characters’ imaginations. “Misdirection is always key when putting together the soundtrack,” Kris explained. “You want to disturb the audience without giving too much away.”

Like Kris, Chae feels that a lot of his work designing sound effects is a matter of imperceptibly altering what’s there to keep the audience guessing and on edge. “For my tracks, I’m always playing around with tone and adding in some extra sounds to just push it and elevate it a little more,” he told IndieWire. By meticulously modulating his effects, Chae is able to make a bigger impact where it counts. “When those scary moments happen I have the room to let them shine and pull back on some of the realistic sounds, really pushing the kinds of scare effects we have,” he said. The extreme ends of the aural spectrum at which Kris and Chae operate are a key part of the show’s horror.

“On this show there are two speeds,” Kris said. “Really amped up and chaotic, or peeled way back with silence and some simple foley to play with the dynamic between soft and loud and build up tension.”

And sound is baked into the story of “Demon of the Road” — at one point Ben describes a frequency that can be used to create hallucinations and drive people crazy as a possible explanation for what he and his partners are experiencing. When asked whether or not this frequency is real and if it informed their approach to the episode, Kris and Chae laughed. “I have no idea,” Kris said. “I don’t know where the writers pull some of this stuff from — mostly from urban legends and the bowels of YouTube, I guess!”

Mike Colter as David Acosta in Evil episode 4, Season 3 streaming on Paramount+, 2022. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Fisher/Paramount+


Elizabeth Fisher/Paramount+

While some of the show’s most impressive sound design comes in its most fanciful and imaginative scenes — such as the ones dealing with demons, who Chae invests with immense power and creepiness via layered animalistic sound effects — “Evil” also sounds unlike any other show in more ostensibly everyday sequences. More nerve-racking than any monster is the cacophony of noise that erupts any time Kristen’s daughters enter a room — the high-intensity volume and speed of their chattering is recognizable and relatable to anyone with children, yet has a sound all its own.

For Kris, the family noise has its origins in an earlier collaboration with the Kings, “The Good Fight.” “On that show you would be in a scene where someone is putting something together quietly at their desk, then cut to some boardroom where everyone is screaming on top of each other,” Kris said. “It’s fun and it’s also challenging. The on-set recordist does a phenomenal job of miking everyone separately, so that even though it’s a sea of kids’ voices I can feature one when I want to.” The trick of making the girls’ conversations sound chaotic while also subtly directing the listener’s ear toward specific lines is emblematic of what Kris enjoys about working on “Evil.” “It’s not your typical walk-and-talk show where you can see how everything is supposed to go,” he concluded. “It’s always fresh and it always keeps us guessing, and we love that about it.”