Martin Carr reviews the series premiere of HBO’s Lovecraft Country…
This is a show which honestly courts controversy from the opening frame. Fantastical elements clash with trench warfare in an audacious opening gambit, which mixes vibrant imagination with grounded realism. As a masterstroke of dreamscape narrative this statement of intent is merely an indication of things to come. Deep rooted racial prejudice merges with a segregationist mentality as show runner Misha Green unpacks her social agenda. Literary references are peppered throughout, while unfettered creativity both on paper and in pictures plays a large part in defining character.
Atticus Black, played with stoic fortitude by Jonathan Majors, is our way into the world of Lovecraft Country steeped in folk tale mythology. It never holds back in illustrating the importance of creativity irrespective of ethnicity, while seamlessly jumping from road trip segue to haunted house bloodbath in the blink of an eye. An unrelenting dialogue is perpetually at play between audience and creator as this creative story of coloured communities, gets underpinned by emancipation diatribes extolling the virtues of free expression. Alongside that familial dysfunction is addressed as relationships are forged then broken, while colour is as much about personal connections here than anything more complex.
Classic horror tropes are subtly blended with contemporary narrative techniques, which feel more intrinsic to the story than mere homage. Jordan Peele’s influence comes through in the diverting of audience expectations and a manipulation of power dynamics between characters. His touch is also present in the sense of community and family which is quickly established, both between our central trio and those that breathe life into this wider world. Those initial moments on the road give Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Letitia and Courtney B. Vance’s George an opportunity to imbue their characters with depth. A benefit which pays off later on as a combination of atmosphere, ambience and chemistry develops between them. Each one harbours a sense of history where lives were lived, mistakes were made and lessons learned.
That this can turn from social commentary piece to mainstream monster mash in a matter of minutes also highlights the involvement of J.J. Abrams. There are flashes of Spielberg and Cameron in that opening which comes from a confidence with tone and content working in unison. Nothing feels visually jarring whilst the series itself is vast. Lovecraft Country does deal with certain stereotypes but these are in context and always progress the story, rather than being employed for shock value. If the aim of this opening episode was to throw down the gauntlet, establish a series with legs and bring us characters of depth then tick that off the list. Were the aims of Misha Green, Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams to dramatically raise hell, deliver a social conscience sucker punch and educate without condescension then you can mark that off as well.
There has been a lot of talk around Lovecraft Country prior to release and there will be a lot more. When this airs in little over a week there will be ripples of adulation and words put to paper trying to make sense of it. Similar to Watchmen it will hopefully raise awareness, promote debate and educate those who wish to learn. On the flipside it’s entertaining as hell, terrifying in an old fashioned way and genuinely inspiring which I suspect was the point.