Locke & Key Review (Spoiler-Free)
Netflix’s long awaited adaptation of Joe Hill’s graphic novels Locke & Key is a magical, coming-of-age horror that’s an absolute joy.
This Locke & Key review contains no spoilers.
The Locke family returns to ancestral home Keyhouse, where they discover multiple magical keys and locks, in Locke & Key. Slightly on the nose puns aside and Netflix latest bingeable series is a dark delight. Based on Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez comic book it’s a mix of magical fantasy, cosmic horror and high-school drama with a great mystery plot at the centre. Beautiful to look at, with characters it’s easy to root for, this ten part series of 50-odd minute episode is highly addictive – don’t wolf it down too quickly, you’ll only miss it when it’s gone.
This isn’t the first attempt to bring this story to the screen – Fox produced a pilot back in 2011 but didn’t pick up the show, and Hulu ordered, then passed on, another attempt as recently as 2017. Their loss is Netflix gain and with Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Meredith Averill (The Haunting of Hill House) as showrunners, the streaming service feels like the right home for a show that should appeal to fans of Stranger Things, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Riverdale as well as creepier and more grown up fare like Hill House.
Jumping between timelines in a way that all comes together perfectly by the end of the series and we learn that the grieving Locke family has moved into their father’s childhood home after he was murdered by a deranged student from the school where he worked as a guidance counsellor. Keyhouse is a gorgeous, labyrinthine mansion that could give the Winchester Mystery House a run for its money and the kids – young Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) and his teenage sister Kinsey (Emilia Jones) and brother Tyler (Connor Jessup) – soon discover the house is full of secrets.
Certain magical keys are hidden throughout Keyhouse and once you work out how to use them amazing things become possible. Most episodes feature the discovery of one or more new keys and while the main underlying narrative of the story – murdered dad, dark secrets, an evil child-killing demon trying to steal the keys for a nefarious purpose – is pretty dark, this lends an almost Harry Potter-esque level of wonder to the show. It’s enhanced by a soundtrack that mixes cool angsty pop tunes with a light, whimsical score.
Exec produced by Andy and Barbara Muschietti, Locke & Key is dashed with shades of their take on Stephen King’s It as the kids begin to uncover decades-old secrets from their father’s childhood. And fortunately it has more in common with It: Chapter One than Chapter Two, firmly focused on the kids and set in a world where the adults don’t seem to be able to retain any memory of the fantastical things that are going on around them, even immediately straight after.
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All three of the Locke kids are excellent, though the stand out is young Bode, who also played inaugural clown fodder Georgie Denbrough in It. A sometimes precocious, always adventurous ball of energy, it’s Bode who hears the first keys calling to him and is then somewhat sidelined by his siblings thinking they are protecting him. Bode is the audience’s way in and our permission to have fun. While the teenagers are dealing with grief, guilt, loneliness, school bullies and first love, Bode is revelling in the pure joy of being able to become a ghost and fly about the place (in one beautifully realised animated sequence) untroubled by the fact that his actual corpse is lying just inside the door.
The world building in Locke & Key is impeccable, mixing the mundanities of school and family life seamlessly with colourful fantasy set pieces. It’s pacey and it looks great, but it’s also a sweet show about a family who cares about each other. For Kinsey in particular it’s a coming-of-age story too and one of her arcs about overcoming fear is poignant where it could have been mawkish, in part because of Jones’ sympathetic performance. Michael Morris who worked on Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why takes the helm on the first two eps with Riverdale director Dawn Wilkinson, Bates Motel’s Tim Southam and Vincenzo Natali and Mark Tonderai who respectively made excellent horror movies Splice and Hush taking over for subsequent eps.
Locke & Key is YA friendly then, but don’t expect it to be kiddy. Writer Joe Hill, who is an exec producer on the show, is the son of Stephen King and a master of the macabre in his own right and Locke & Key has a formidable antagonist in Laysla De Oliveira’s ‘Dodge’. A gorgeous, seductive, ruthless demon, Dodge sets out her stall early on when she pushes a random child in front of a subway train without a thought. Dodge cares nothing for human life and gets a kick out of torturing adorable young Bode.
There’s the scope – and the source material – for a second season here but thankfully season one works as a complete story on it’s own, with sufficient explanations given, timelines joined up and loose ends tied (ep 9 does a great job of this, without ever feeling too exposition heavy).
We do hope a season two is forthcoming though, not just so the show can lean harder into its Lovecrafian themes but just for the joy of hanging out with Bode Locke in the weird and wonderful hidden places of Keyhouse.
Locke & Key arrives on Netflix on February 7.