Lovecraft Country is an ambitious bit of genre television. Produced by Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams, the adaptation of Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel by showrunner Misha Green hits the ground running and isn’t afraid to make its feelings known right out the gate. If you’re someone who “doesn’t want politics in my [insert art medium of choice]”, don’t even bother with this show because it’s wearing its feelings on its sleeve and you’re probably the kind of person who will blindly hate it for that reason alone.
It would be a shame if anyone discounts Lovecraft Country because of its sociopolitical elements. This is a show using genre storytelling to highlight the (not-as-distant-as-many-want-to-believe) history of racism and segregation in America. That’s going to be difficult material for some to confront, but horror has always been the genre that’s not afraid to stare ugliness in the face.
In that regard, Lovecraft Country is a resounding success. The moments of racial fear and tension are deftly composed in the show and it’s going to be provocative seeing what other factors the series wants to bring to light. For example, the pilot is going to be the first time many viewers may have ever heard the term “sundown town.” Wrapping up that kind of historical education in a road trip horror/adventure is undeniably intriguing.
If you’re worried about the horror/adventure facet of Lovecraft Country, fret not. This is a show whose creative team has an obvious and deep love of the genre and that’s on display from the very opening. An extraordinary dream sequence kicks things off and the unadulterated passion for pulpy stories is brought to life with a spectacular tableau of UFOs, Cthulhu, space women, and a superpowered Jackie Robinson. The show is also littered with an understanding of horror storytelling and its historical resonance. It’s fair to say that the people in charge of Lovecraft Country get the appeal of horror and why it’s an important and effective genre.
However, Lovecraft Country is a Bad Robot production and that company has a certain approach to monsters that rears its head by the end of the pilot. As our heroes are having their lives threatened by a racist police force in the forest, some monsters attack and the Bad Robot staples show up: an unimaginative design, a decision to never give the monsters a proper hero shot, and a failure to make the monsters feel like presences in the scene instead of simply coming across as effects. You can see this approach in other films under the Bad Robot moniker – 10 Cloverfield Lane and Super 8 both display this – and it’s a bummer to see it make its way into this TV series. Hopefully, other monster sequences will shine brighter in upcoming episodes.
Thankfully, watching upcoming episodes is going to be very easy with this leading ensemble. Jonathan Majors headlines Lovecraft Country as returning soldier Atticus Freeman, a fiction-loving young man in search of his missing father. Joining him on his journey are his uncle George Freeman (Courtney B. Vance) and neighborhood friend and romantic interest Letitia ‘Leti’ Lewis (Jurnee Smollett).
These three actors have phenomenal chemistry and each of them could easily be the lead of the show. The dynamic between the characters is immediately loving and it’s going to be tough watching their lives be at risk every week. For the show to establish and endear its characters that well in a single episode is a testament to the talent from the writers and actors.
It’s possible that Lovecraft Country might have played things a little too big and fast in its pilot episode. The opening dream sequence and the climactic monster showdown got the series off on the right foot, but it’s also set an expectation that the show is going to be able to consistently match that intensity. And considering where the end of the pilot leaves us, it’s likely that things are going to get less monster-focused and more concentrated on a secret society/magic storyline. That certainly has potential, but this has set an expectation that it’s going to be a monster show. If it backs off on that in a significant way, it might not be able to sustain interest.
Even so, Lovecraft Country is on the right track at the start. It’s got a likable cast of leads, an easy to buy into premise, sharp cultural commentary, and the promise of truly nutty monster shenanigans. If it can keep all these things in alignment with each other, it has the potential to be the breakout horror show of the year. But, if it can’t figure out how best to manage its creature-feature core, it might get swallowed up by itself.