Lockwood & Co: A Netflix Ghost Show That Changes Everything About Our History

Exclusive: Attack the Block creator Joe Cornish sheds light on his new series Lockwood & Co, in which teens take on spirits set in an alternate history!

Lockwood & Co
Photo: Netflix

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The world has been hit by an epidemic. An epidemic of ghosts. They started appearing in the late ‘60s; they are real, they will kill you if they touch you, and they are almost impossible to see—except, for some reason, to teenagers. This is the world of Lockwood & Co.

As you can imagine, by the 2020s, this has led history down a very different path. 

“Society has changed completely. Technology has not evolved in the way that we experience it today,” showrunner Joe Cornish tells Den of Geek magazine. “There was a huge wave of terror, and then there was this discovery that metal and salt and water could repel ghosts. So these industries around ghost prevention grew up, and then it was discovered that young people could detect and see ghosts more clearly than adults.”

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The result is a world of rival anti-ghost agencies—some large corporations, some tiny local Dickensian-looking operations—where children and teens fight ghosts with metal swords, salt bombs, and magnesium flares.

It is based on the books of Jonathan Stroud, and it’s clear talking to Cornish that he’s a fan.

“Jonathan Stroud has built on that concept and really thoughtfully constructed the repercussions of what happens when ghosts are endemic and lethal,” Cornish says. “And he’s built this brilliant pseudoscience around that idea. He’s invented lots of different types of ghosts [and a] taxonomy of the supernatural methods to fight them.”

Watching Lockwood & Co, the subtle worldbuilding stands out. It’s a modern, 21st-century world, but one where the trains are filled with people reading magazines, not phones.

That was one of the things that attracted me as somebody who was a teenager in the ‘80s. That was a pre-digital world, and Lockwood & Co is set in a world where the digital revolution never really happened,” Cornish says. “So we wanted to, in some ways, invoke the world of youth culture as it used to be before the Digital Revolution, when there were printed magazines and newspapers and live gigs, and you met face to face rather than through a telephone. We try to give everything this tactile, physical feel because that helps make the ghosts more real as well.”

We explore this world through the eyes of agents Anthony Lockwood, Lucy Carlyle, and George Karim.

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“The greatest thing about the book is the characters and the relationships at the center of it,” Cornish tells us.

Before coming to Lockwood & Co, Cornish made an alien invasion film, Attack the Block, and a movie about Arthurian myth, The Kid Who Would Be King. Very different stories, but for some reason, they all feature children and young people fighting monsters with swords.

I know. It’s weird, isn’t it?” Cornish admits. “I’d better do something that doesn’t have young people with swords next…”  he begins, before trailing off as he remembers he’s making Attack the Block 2. “I guess I like stories about the younger generation fighting against the older generation and also against authority, because I like that spirit of rebellion.”

He also has childhood memories awash with ‘80s VHS horror, which clearly informs his work.

I could go down the road and rent Zombie Flesh Eaters and The Exorcist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre aged 11,” Cornish points out. “We were exposed to all this shit incredibly young.”

That, combined with the introduction of the PG-13 rating—meaning you could have swearing in ET and Raiders of the Lost Ark’s exploding heads—made a big impact on Cornish.

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“They felt really visceral and impressive as a young person. You felt like you were watching spectacular, grown-up, freaky shit,” he recalls. “There’s a lot of that in everything I do, I think.”

Lockwood & Co is out on Netflix on Jan. 27.