The Netflix Highlight: “Locke & Key,” Season 1
What’s up: Netflix’s “Locke & Key” is a comic book adaptation that focuses on a fantastical journey taken by the grieving Locke family. While living in Seattle, the family witnessed the murder of their father. This horrific event prompts the mother to move her three children to a small town in Massachusetts where they settle into a mysterious old house.
The Locke children find magical keys in the house. (The series repeatedly plays up this pun.) It turns out the house sits atop a passage to another realm. As the children discover more about the keys, they accidentally unleash dark spirits.
While the show is mostly in the fantasy genre, it also has elements of horror, comedy and coming-of-age tales.
The original comic book series debuted in 2008. Joe Hill, the son of horror icon Stephen King, wrote the books and is still adding new stories. So if this Netflix show becomes a hit, the extensive source material could help it stick around for a long time.
To give you a feel for the Netflix series, here’s how it introduces itself: The title sequence features ornate illustrations of keys set to orchestral music. Then the first shot shows a man walking on a sidewalk in a snowy suburb at night. The camera frames the scene so that the sidewalk is at an angle, meaning the man walks from the top corner of the viewer’s screen. (This atypical framing repeats throughout the show.) After the man takes a few steps, the camera focuses on his lower body and shows him jangling keys. (I laughed out loud at this.)
The man reaches a house door and places the keys into the lock (just like the show’s title). Just then he receives a phone call. A female voice tells him that a man with the last name “Locke” is dead. The man standing at the door says he knows what he needs to do. In what may seem like an overreaction, he enters his house, opens the lock to a safe and jabs a key into his heart while screaming. He erupts into flames and the house burns down.
The main cast includes Connor Jessup, Emilia Jones, Jackson Robert Scott, Darby Stanchfield and Laysla De Oliveira.
“Locke & Key,” Season 1, runs 10 episodes of roughly 45 minutes each.
Sum-up: “Locke & Key” annoyed me at first, but ultimately won me over. I have near-zero tolerance for the twee-gothic aesthetic, which the show leans into again and again. I’m also tired of Netflix pumping out shows about smart kids who stumble into magic.
Yet despite the glaring negatives of the premise, the superior construction of this show makes it worth checking out. Each scene features exciting shots and unusual set designs; you can tell an incredible amount of care went into them. This effort contrasts with a show like “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” That Netflix series also features magic kids in a creaky yet beautiful house. But “Chilling” looks like the director filmed the scenes as quickly as possible.
Take the “Locke & Key” scene in which a young character uses wheeled shoes to roll through the dusty house. The camera follows behind the rolling shoes. This not only makes for kinetic movement but highlights both the dust and the fancy old floors. It’s an elegant solution for the need to showcase the setting.
That the underlying story comes from celebrated source material helps as well. The creators of this live-action adaptation could spend their time and resources on shot-to-shot beauty instead of inventing a fantastical world from scratch.
Fans of the comic book series may experience frustration that the TV show strips away much of the horror. But the show does an admirable job of making the fantasy elements shine. As such, fans should embrace it as its own thing.
Heads up: Mixing humor with other genres (in this case, fantasy, tragedy and horror) can make for a more vibrant narrative. But the comedy in “Locke & Key” feels like it’s saving the show from lackluster storytelling rather than taking it to another level.
The show will have a cliche moment ― such as a character flashing back to splatters of blood to establish past tragedy ― and then a random joke will be thrown into the dialogue. It often feels like the writers pinpointed the weak parts of the script and decided to insert a joke there rather than really fixing the writing.
“Locke & Key” often wastes the viewer’s time. Along with scripts that are not sharp enough, the show has copious establishing shots that fill the long episode runtimes. These establishing shots ― of settings such as the Massachusetts town and the house ― are beautiful in their own right. But for a 10-episode series with 45-minute runtimes, it gets to be too much.
Close-up: The dialogue in this show is a charm offensive. And since “Locke & Key” often moves too slowly and treads in hokey territory, it’s the charm that repeatedly saves it.
A moment that highlights this comes in the first episode. The jokey uncle departs the house and heads to his car alone. He doesn’t have good memories of the house, which he’s keeping from the family members who have just moved in. Thinking he’s by himself at his car, he smiles and flips off the house. His young nephew sees him from the porch and asks why he’s doing that.
Stuttering, the uncle says the middle finger can mean “goodbye.”
“Like aloha?” the boy asks. The uncle takes the free conversational out and says sure.
Beaming at his new knowledge, the boy flips off his uncle and yells, “Aloha!”
History: Joe Hill keeps writing updates to the comic book series that he sets in the past. For example, his 2012 book, “Grindhouse,” follows Depression-era gangsters hiding in the Locke home. He has an upcoming series called ― wait for it ― “World War Key,” which will focus on how the magical keys affected past conflicts such as the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.
Comparable stories: The fantastical elements paired with the precocious kids paired with the lavish budget makes this show similar to many other Netflix shows. “Stranger Things,” “Lost in Space” and “The Umbrella Academy” all check related narrative boxes. The ornate, custom-built house is analogous to the house from “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” The horror elements have a similar vibe to those of “The Haunting of Hill House.” In fact, the co-showrunner of “Haunting,” Meredith Averill, also co-developed “Locke & Key.”
The white male teen protagonist of “Locke & Key” even has a tri-color coat just like the white male teen protagonist of Netflix’s “Sex Education.”
It’s almost like Netflix knows what it wants.
The characters and money: Early in the series, two characters spat over the meaning of a monetary gift. The family visits an ice cream parlor upon arriving in Massachusetts. When the ice cream scooper reads the name on their credit card, he looks concerned and says the ice cream is on the house. (News of the grieving family moving to town preceded their arrival.) The mother accepts the free ice cream, but the daughter expresses frustration.
“We don’t need charity,” the daughter says. The scooper, who is the same age as the daughter and seems to be developing a crush on her, insists that it’s only a welcoming token of hospitality. The daughter then insists on leaving a large tip to rid the debt.
Bonus: Many attempts to adapt the comic book series have failed in the past. You can watch clips from a 2011 pilot below, which seems to have had a fraction of the Netflix budget.
“Locke & Key,” Season 1 trailer:
A Couple Of Netflix News Stories From This Week
1. Netflix finally gave subscribers the option to turn off autoplaying trailers. I wrote about this terrible feature back in 2018 and said it drove me “insane” at the time. I still haven’t gotten used to it and I’m so happy I don’t have to deal with those awful, awful autoplaying videos anymore.
If you’re a Netflix subscriber, click this link and unselect the “autoplay previews” option. And now you’re free.
2. In somewhat of a surprise, Netflix canceled the show “Spinning Out” after only one season. That series focused on the mental toll of pursuing athletic greatness as a figure skater.
And here are the shows and movies that joined Netflix recently:
- “Sordo” (Netflix Film)
- “Team Kaylie” (Part 3, Netflix Family)
- “Faith, Hope & Love”
- “She Did That”
- “Tom Papa: You’re Doing Great!” (Netflix Original)
- “Black Hollywood: ‘They’ve Gotta Have Us’”
- “The Pharmacist” (Netflix Documentary)
- “Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story”
- “Cagaster of an Insect Cage” (Netflix Anime)
- “The Ballad of Lefty Brown”
- “Dragons: Rescue Riders” (Season 2, Netflix Family)
- “Horse Girl” (Netflix Film)
- “Locke & Key” (Netflix Original)
- “My Holo Love” (Netflix Original)
- “Who Killed Malcolm X?”
- “The Coldest Game” (Netflix Film)