Locked and Loaded
“Locke & Key” on Netflix
The award-winning comic book series Locke & Key by writer Joe Hill (son to Stephen King) and Chilean artist Gabriel Rodriguez has long been on Hollywood’s “hot list” for adaptation. If you haven’t had the pleasure, think of it as something like The Haunting of Hill House crossed with The Chronicles of Narnia. Dimension Films initially wanted to make a feature version with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Transformers, Star Trek) in charge. But that fell apart for some reason. FOX shot a full TV pilot back in 2011—which never made it onto the air despite some solid direction and a memorable cast (Miranda Otto, Jesse McCartney, Sarah Bolger, Nick Stahl). After years of stops and starts, Netflix has stepped in with its massive buying power and global reach, delivering a commendable version of the supernatural series that will both lure new fans and please a decent percentage of the old ones.
Carlton Cuse (who gave us “Lost,” an appropriately mysterious antecedent) serves as co-creator, showrunner and one of the executive producers for Netflix’s 10-episode representation, covering (most of) the book’s first three story arcs (“Welcome to Lovecraft,” “Head Games” and “Crown of Shadows”). Future seasons (not yet greenlighted, but very likely) will go deeper into the storyline.
As in the original comic, the overall plot centers on the Locke children: Tyler, Kinsey and Bode (played here by Connor Jessup, Emilia Jones and Jackson Robert Scott). Together with their traumatized mother (Darby Stanchfield), the Locke kids move to rural Massachusetts following the shocking murder of their father, a high school counselor in Seattle. The Lockes take up residence at their father’s ancestral home, a sprawling Gothic mansion called Keyhouse. It isn’t long before the kids discover a series of magical keys hidden inside the house, each of which bestows a specific power on the person who uses it (in conjunction with the appropriate door, of course). But there’s a mysterious supernatural presence lurking inside the estate’s well house, a ghostly woman named Dodge (Laysla De Oliveira) who will stop at nothing to get her hands on those keys.
The Netflix version takes dozens of small liberties with the original property, while maintaining the majority of its look and feel. Certain story elements are reordered, some characters reduced in importance and others brought to the forefront. But fans will instantly feel at home with the overall story and setting. The show is very crisply lensed, and makes good use of the wintry New England setting.
Admittedly, some of the book’s gorier sequences have been greatly reduced to PG-13 levels—possibly in pursuit of all-ages audience members left over from “Stranger Things.” As a result, some readers of the comic may be ticked off to find the show concentrating more on teen lit fantasy than on Lovecraftian horror. But it’s not a bad tradeoff, really. The story’s collection of magical keys and doors is its most original element, and it’s good to see them highlighted though the use of some dazzling, well-executed special effects. Yes, there’s more teen drama and romance than in the comic. But the cast is good enough to pull it off without making this feel like your standard CW melodrama. And the show’s gloomy, realistic depiction of the trauma and loss at the heart of it all offers a solid emotional ground on which to construct its characters (making the twisty supernatural elements to come easier to swallow).
Spread over the course of 10 episodes (with plenty more to come), the tension isn’t always as tight as it should be. The addition of some new characters definitely adds a few too many subplots unrelated to the central story. Nonetheless, “Locke & Key” offers up some clever dark fantasy—imaginative, original and occasionally quite spooky. And if it puts you in the mood to read/re-read Hill and Rodriquez’ original comic afterward, all the better.