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Netflix’s ‘Locke & Key’ Lovingly Adapts A Beloved Horror Comic But Loses Some Of The Horrific Bite

After over a decade of development in various places, Netflix finally did the deed by bringing the Locke & Key horror comic to life. The TV series is, of course, based upon the graphic novel series by author Joe Hill and illustrator Gabriel Rodriguez, and the project was (mostly) worth the wait. It’s a series that’s borne from grief and trauma but veers into full-fledged fantasy and mystery. However, this show does make tonal tweaks, mainly in skewing away from horror. This seems possibly counterproductive, right? Well, the shift was clearly a conscious one to make the tale more accessible and friendly to a younger crowd. Will that gamble pay off? Most likely, yes. The spirit of Hill’s story remains alive and well in the translation, despite a perceptible loss of intensity.

What strikes me most about this adaptation is a predominant layer, one that pairs standout elements from two other successful Netflix series. I’m talking about a youth-slanted and fantastical showcase that evokes a Stranger Things vibe, which is woven into lush, gothic visuals like we’ve seen in The Haunting Of Hill House. There’s clearly Goosebumps inspiration going on as well. It’s not the worst combination of onscreen influences, even if it isn’t always the greatest. There’s no sly wink to the audience as with The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina. Further, the loss of the more adult elements in the graphic novel (including gore) leaves the story’s main villain without as much bite. And even when that bite exists, the context may not entirely make sense to newcomers.

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With all of that said, the show is highly bingeable. The series begins with a tragedy that propels the Locke children’s migration (with their understandably distracted mother, Darby Stanchfield) into their Massachusetts ancestral home, known as the Keyhouse, which ends up holding magical powers and secrets that should have stayed buried as history intended. Unfortunately for the family, an evil spirit (known to comic readers as Dodge) is determined to coax inhabitants into doing its bidding. Mainly, Dodge (who can take a variety of forms and is portrayed by the alluring Laysla De Oliveira in the series) wants to acquire a set of mysterious keys that unlock various powers that were, you know, locked up for a reason. To detail any of the keys here would spoil the enjoyment of watching Hill’s elaborate mythos begin to unfold, but let’s just say that temptation abounds for the children, especially young Bode (Jackson Robert Scott).

Even if the show does skew toward the wholesome side of things (honestly, the high-school drama aspects could go, since they feel like padding), the parts of the show that involve magic are captivating. Likewise, the children, who also include Kinsey (Emilia Jessup) and Tyler (Connor Jessup), are all played beautifully while they face up to challenges that, at times, even surpass the sudden loss from their recent past. Their experiences differ, of course. The two eldest children, mainly, are very much struggling to adjust to a new life, but Bode’s got a lot of time on his hands without much supervision, so he’s naturally going to be the most vulnerable to manipulation while exploring his mammoth new home. All of the children, though, are well-drawn and complex characters. They must face up to their new reality while, paradoxically, being tempted by the idea that fantasy might make that reality a little easier to bear. Naturally, giving into those urges presents further complications at the Keyhouse.

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Locke & Key parcels itself out well when it comes to pacing out an intricate story. It’s also important to stress that this is not a literal adaptation of the graphic novel. No, it doesn’t recontextualize the source material like Watchmen did (this show isn’t that ambitious), but there’s a different spin on the existing framework of the comic. It’s also obvious that the writers wanted to carefully dole out Hill’s story for at least one more season. We’ll see if they get there. One possible barrier to that goal, however, is that there’s not a huge amount of exposition in this show. Generally speaking, that can be a good thing, so as not to bog down the viewer, but this series could have spared some time to flesh out Dodge, who feels a little two-dimensional, and that hurts the show.

Overall, Locke & Key succeeds, and although it’s imperfect, that shouldn’t disappoint fans of the comic, unless they were dead-set on this arriving as a carbon copy of what appears in the source material. There’s plenty of deft hands behind the scenes with co-showrunners Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Meredith Averill (The Haunting of Hill House) finally bringing this series to the screen with a developed-by hand from Aron Eli Coleite (Heroes). It really has been a long time coming. Fox and Universal Pictures both rolled around adaptation possibilities, and Hulu even mapped out nearly a full season before tossing in the towel, but now, Netflix has produced the goods. And those goods are not only entertaining but also heartwarming and rewarding, all while making a cult comic more accessible to the streaming masses.

Netflix’s ‘Locke & Key’ streams on February 7.

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