If you haven’t caught Locke & Key on Netflix, it’s worth your time. However, be forewarned the show is heavy on the teen angst and light on gothic horror.
The plot revolves around the Locke siblings; Tyler (Connor Jessup), Kinsey (Emilia Jones), and Bode (Jackson Robert Scott), After a fellow student murders their father, Rendell, the family moves from Seattle to Rendell’s family home, a creepy Victorian mansion in the fictitious town of Matheson, MA. The house, known as Keyhouse, has an ominous past, because of reasons. Almost immediately, the youngest Locke hears whispers from the house that lead him to find special keys that unlock more than just doors and boxes. While their recovering-alcoholic mother, Nina (Darby Stanchfield), slides back into her former drinking habits, the kids fight the machinations of an evil being, Dodge (Laysla de Oliveira), who is ruthless in her quest to possess every key.
Watch the Locke & Key official trailer for Season 1.
The story originates from the 2008 award-winning graphic-novel series written by Joe Hill [Source: IMDb.com], son of horror writer Stephen King, and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. In 2011, Fox passed on a proposed pilot and turned it into a movie. The 2020 Netflix series, produced and written by Hill, debuted Season 1 in February and Netflix recently announced plans for Season 2. It shows a 7.4 rating on IMDb, with most user-reviews siting great potential in the world-building but poor execution in writing. One reviewer went so far as to call it, “a Series of Stupid Events.”
The show is gorgeous, with lush cinematography that artfully explores the expansive Keyhouse locations, the small-town charm of Matheson, and the world-wide locations seen during the use of the Anywhere Key. The camera swoops around as Bode enjoys a ghostly ride and pans over the gloriously sprawling estate of Keyhouse before transitioning to an overhead view of quaint Matheson. The production design is top notch. Keyhouse is a sumptuous if rambling Victorian estate complete with gothic doorways, a grand art nouveau entryway, two austere book-lined libraries, and hideously awful wallpaper in the bedrooms. The art design of the keys is especially whimsical. Each key visually looks like it’s function, with a head on the Head Key, two opposing faces on the Mirror Key, and fire on the Matchstick Key.
Most of the adult actors are seasoned and the teen actors are solid. Connor Jessup gives an excellent performance as the emotionally torn Tyler, trying to be the ‘man’ of the family and still have a normal teen life. And it may not come as a surprise that Jackson Robert Scott (Bode) also played Georgie in Stephen King’s It, directed by series pilot director Andy Muschietti. Scott plays the typical overly precocious pre-teen, long on explanations and short on common-sense. If you hated Wesley Crusher, be ready to yell, “Shut up, Bode!” at your screen. Emilia Jones (Kinsey) is the most disappointing. The BAFTA-nominated actress gives a credible performance, especially during the emotion shift of Episode 3, “Head Games,” but her otherwise bratty-teenage-daughter has little to redeem her. Finally, kudos to my favorite scene-stealing actress, Laysla de Oliveira. I enjoyed every scene that focused on her delicious and delightfully evil, bad-ass character, Dodge.
So, is Locke & Key worth your quarantine binge-watching time? Well, that depends. I found the mystery of the keys to be fascinating storytelling, but the teen characters don’t seem to know what to do with them. On the surface, each key functions in a singularly quirky manner; make other do what you want, go anywhere in the world by simply opening a door, even explore the virtual landscape of your own mind. These initial, cursory explorations of each key take the viewer on some fun visual rides; a swooping ghostly flight, the kitschy 90s mall setting of Kinsey’s mind, and a horrifying mirror-prison complete with evil clone images. However, after the kids use each key superficially, they seem to forget they have the damn things.
Layered onto the fantasy elements of the keys are more moving themes such as grief over parental loss, psychological trauma, and the desire to fit in to an unknown place. The story attempts to explore each of these issues, but gets lost in high school tropes of mean girls, clueless jocks, and nerdy outcasts. Instead of complex characters, the story lumps Tyler with the jocks and his wall-flower sister with the geeks. I found myself heavy-sighing when Mean Girl #1 gets her comeuppance at the hands of the geeks and the house party for jocks and cheerleaders turns into a drink-sex-fest. The writers had better material.
The ‘key’ problem with Locke & Key is the writing. Which is surprising, given the cult status of the original graphic novels and the extensive writing team that includes both Hill and Rodriguez. Like many series that revolve around teens, Locke & Key leans heavily into the ‘Adults Are Useless’ trope. Through some magical hand-waving, anyone over the age of 18 can’t remember the keys, their uses, or their consequences. The writers then add an alcoholic mother, so it’s clear that the kids can’t explain anything to Mom. Their adult uncle, Randell’s brother Duncan, also shows up intermittingly during the show just to show how much he can’t remember. Only one adult seems to remember the keys, and it’s never explained why or how she remembers. Helpful!
If you’re a fan of other Netflix shows with teens, magic, and gorgeous settings such as The 100, and The Shannara Chronicles, Locke & Key another binge-worthy series for you. At least until Season 4 of Stranger Things is ready.
Heidi's Review of Locke & Key
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