Locke and Key has one of the most interesting and out there premises currently showing on TV – in my humble opinion. After their father’s murder, the 3 Locke children move with their mother to their fathers’ ancestral home in Matheson Massachusetts; Key House. As it turns out, this is a rather magical house – or rather it contains several magical keys, each having a different magical property. For example,there is the head key, which when inserted into someone’s head allows you to view the inside of the person’s head. Then there is the ghost key, which when put in the correct door removes the soul from the body, the body appears dead whilst the ghost can freely roam and fly through the house and grounds. Or the identity key, which can change the appearance and gender of the user. You get the gist, so far so cool and incredibly weird. As you can imagine, with magic like this at their disposal, the possibilities and potential for story ideas are extremely exciting. As the kids start to find the keys around the house and settle into their new house and school, it becomes apparent that something else is after the keys. Unfortunately Bode, the youngest, accidentally and unknowingly set them free from their prison in the well house, and this something is not very friendly and is willing to do anything to get them.
To give a bit of background, Locke and Key has been around for quite a while, in comic book form. Volume one (there are currently six) Welcome to Lovecraft was published in 2008. It was written by Joe Hill the author of a number of successful novels including Heart Shaped Box, Horns and NOS4R2 – already turned into a successful TV adaptation late last year. It is illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez a Chilean comic book artist and architect. Locke and Key proved to be a fan favourite and there was an announcement in 2014 of a film trilogyby Alex Kurtzman, however by 2015 Hill revealed the films were no longer happening. However, TV was still an option, though its journey has been a long one, the rights were originally picked up all the way back in 2010 and a pilot shot for Fox in 2011 but it was not picked up to series. It then moved on to Hulu where in 2017-2018 a cast was announced but again it was not meant to be. Then in stepped Netflix, who as is becoming a pattern, came to the rescue with financial support and redeveloping the script for a ten-episode season which eventually aired on the 7th February 2020.
So is it any good? Well actually yes, it is a very entertaining and bingeworthy show, which I can personally attest to as I watched the whole season in 2 days. It has a rather interesting tone, reminding me in ways of the Stranger Things model in which yes it has some light moments from the perspective of young characters which would certainly pass the PG rating. However, there are moments which are very dark in tone and also, I thought rather successfully comments on a number of adult themes; mental health being a prominent one with an antagonist character with a tragic storyline. So, it is traversing a thin line as to who exactly this is intended for. I have not personally read the comics (however I have since purchased volumes one and two since completing season one) but from what I can gather the overall tone of the comics is very dark and it doesn’t shy away from blood and gore. There seems to be a fair bit of it flicking through volume one. So it seems Netflix may have dialled down the darkness a bit in an attempt to appeal to a larger audience perhaps.
Saying that, I really think it works, one reason for this being the cast. As far as I can tell most of the cast are unknowns or only have a few acting credits thus far, but I think this is likely to change in the very near future as each seems to be perfectly cast in their role. Connor Jessup plays Tyler Locke the eldest of the three Locke children. Tyler had a strained relationship with his father before his death as a lot of teenage boys do and this is now haunting him and preventing him to move on healthily. He therefore makes a number of questionable decisions throughout the series, none of which effect his likeability in any way. Jessup gives Tyler the perfect balance of teenage bravado and a loyalty and love for his family. Deep down it is quite clear that Tyler is a truly good guy just going through some stuff but will come through in the end.
Emilia Jones plays the middle child and only girl Kinsey who was in the house at the time of her father’s murder and is struggling with the fear that now clings to her and her inability to act in the moment. What is clear from the beginning of this series and what makes it all the more relatable, is the realistic thoughts and feelings the children, especially the eldest two are feeling and their ways of dealing with them. Kinsey through the help of the keys is able to physically remove her fear with interesting consequences. Jones again is perfectly cast in the role, her most successful scenes I feel were not those in which she interacts or responds to the magic around her, but the more human moments; making new friends, trying to fit into a new school, dealing with their mother’s struggles with alcoholism. She is certainly one to watch in the future.
And then there is Bode played by Jackson Robert, probably the most recognisable for playing the ill-fated Georgie in It Chapter One in 2017. He is the beating heart and innocent energy of the show, it is through Bode that the magical plot begins as he begins to hear the keys and the devilish woman in the well whispering to him. I felt that Bode’s character got side-lined more as the episodes progressed for the teenage drama that ensued. I look forward to seeing more of him in the next season. This show is filled with a number of great supporting characters the stand out and personal favourite by far for me was Petrice Jones’ Scot with one t Cavendish, Kinsey’s friend/love interest. He is he the comic relief and does it remarkably well, he is the Englishman surrounded by Americans and plays up to that wonderfully.
Locke and Key relies on visual effects heavily at times to pull off the more surreal/magical elements of the plot. For the most part this is done very effectively, there were a few moments where I thought the effects were a little shaky and not quite up to scratch but 95% of the time, I thought it was very clever and really well done. The pacing of this first season is maybe my biggest issue overall, it felt rushed at times, a side plot focusing on Nina Locke’s sobriety is boiled down to a single episode by the next she has seemingly conquered her battle and back on the wagon which was a bit jarring and felt unrealistic. I was concerned when doing more research that this ten-episode season covers four of the six volumes of Locke and Key which makes me wonder how much they have glanced over the plots from the comics.
Despite these rather small issues which are probably rather pedantic, this is definitely worth a watch, I think it is fair to say it is extremely binge-worthy and the writing gene is very strong in the Hill/King family (if you didn’t know Joe Hill is the son of famed novelist Stephen King). I definitely recommend putting this on your watch list.
Mary co-hosts the regular CineChat Podcast with Matt. Find out more about the podcast.
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