Created by Misha Green, Jordan Peele, J.J. Abrams
Starring Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett, and Courtney B. Vance
As soon as a project emblazons the name Lovecraft across its marketing, there is a mixed reaction among the lifelong horror fans who know what baggage comes with it. Some simply celebrate the work that’s seeped into the dark corners of our minds, filling those shadowy spaces with roiling tentacles, clawed hands that seem once human, and glimmering black eyes that shine in clusters like bubbles floating atop a puddle of water. Others are quick to point out the author’s blatant racism, which, understandably, ruins any and all work the man did in his lifetime.
HBO’s Lovecraft Country swims deep and unflinchingly into these murky waters, delivering monstrous entities with a thousand eyes and teeth that leave no man recognizable, and on that same page, puts the viewer on the receiving end of a 1950’s world designed to treat black folks as less than human. All at once, a “sundown town” means a region where black men and women can be rightfully hung after dark and a place where, deep in the forests, you may hear a branch snap far above you and a low growl build with anticipation before an unspeakable terror claims your life.
Atticus Freeman has seen the horrors of war and tapped into the deep recesses of his more primal nature to survive. When his father goes missing, Atticus returns home to collect clues and track him down.
As fate would have it, Letitia Dandridge is also returning home, though not for such a “hero’s journey” scenario. Letitia is still trying to find her way in the world, preferring to experience moments of it through the lens of her camera. Perhaps it is so she can keep her distance, observing from afar in relative safety. Or maybe it helps to idealize those moments which are often bookended by heartache, disappointment, and rage. Her long, bumpy road has brought her back to Chicago…and crashing into Atticus’ life at the start of a very strange adventure.
Atticus is backed by his uncle, a man who seems to have ignited his love for books, be they the expected classics known the world over or the fantastical worlds found in horror and science fiction. This readily available knowledge of the supernatural creates an extra dimension we don’t often see in a horror tale, and less so in a period piece. These men have read the tales, and while they are rational beings who know the difference between reality and fiction, they know a monster when it’s staring them in the face. His uncle is also the publisher of a travel guide for black folks, helping them navigate a very dangerous world, so we are constantly reminded that even the mundane expanses of green that roll out before their car can hold untold dangers.
The trio load into a car and set off into a story that is equal parts tomb raiding adventure, real-life horror, and blood-soaked nightmares that will elicit a creepy smile in any genre loving viewer. After all, you came here for monsters, didn’t you? Lovecraft Country delivers, and then some.
As I sat back and dove into the very first episode, I almost immediately discovered a source of fear I had not experienced before. I’ve watched movies where the materials tread where I’d been today, but nothing sent chills across my skin. I’ve lived where this specter of dread was ever-present in the minds and voices of ignorance, but it still did not feel the same. One could say the color of my skin has afforded me an exemption from this very unique Black Experience. To be watched. To see revulsion in the eyes of strangers. Worse, to see the very real potential for harm delivered by those in authority all around, should a movement or expression be found a “threat”. Or to feel hate just for breathing the same air.
Times have changed for the better, but one only has to scan any daily news agency to hear of violence inflicted upon black men and women for the crime of simply existing, and it may be this very stark reality that has finally connected me with a fear I had not yet known. The fear that nowhere is safe and those that should be protecting us may turn violent in a moment’s notice. On a whim, even. We’ve come a long way from the 1950s of Lovecraft Country… but not far enough.
In that respect, it seems almost chilling that our leading men would find interest in the fictional horrors of Bram Stoker, Ray Bradbury, and, of course, H.P. Lovecraft when the real world holds enough terror to fill a lifetime of volumes. This unique experience in real terror aside, Lovecraft Country also delivers on monstrosities that assure the viewer no one skimped on the budget or imagination, and mini geysers of blood, leaving character after character covered in the red stuff.
After screening the first five episodes, I’m seeing fantastic development of characters both heroic and malevolent, spun together by actors who make me care about the wellbeing of just about everyone we are made to focus on. The charisma is real and very enticing. The subject material, while set in the ’50s, still resonates soundly in our tumultuous times, making each tale within the tale fully engrossing and often, relatable.
My sole argument would be the use of very modern music in many scenes, cracking my immersion in two with every note. There are some odd choices there. Still, the overall package is an amazing one that will leave the viewer desperate for more after every premiere.
Watch your favorite message boards! After Episode 1, you’re going to hear your best horror buddies screaming to anyone who will listen. Lovecraft Country is one of those projects where superior writing and truth to power fuel content that already has the potential to thrill an audience, though it surprisingly has not in many years. It’s time to celebrate once more. Our modern horror masters are doing us proud.
Lovecraft Country is one of those projects where superior writing and truth to power fuel content that already has the potential to thrill an audience, though it surprisingly has not in many years.