If you see the big house, some kids in the trailer for Locke & Key and read it’s based on the graphic novel by Joe Hill you’d be forgiven for thinking, “Well this might be a fun Stranger Things meets Chronicles of Narnia mashup on Netflix. It’ll be good for a weekend family watch party as we get some moderate tingles down our spine.” But think again. All you have to know is that Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son and this story steps it up a notch in beginning to establish a world where no one is safe and mystery lies on the other side of almost every door.
In the opening moments of Locke & Key’s pilot, “Welcome to Matheson”, we learn through a mysterious phone call that “Rendell Locke is dead” which instigates a string of rather severe reactions from a mystery character. It sets a tone for a show that could well become a staple in Netflix’s ever-growing catalog of original content. Locke & Key wants you to leave just the opening minutes thinking, “What the f@#$ was that all about?”
That being said, much of the first episode is, at times, a plodding introduction into the Locke family as they pick up the pieces of their father’s death. This includes the kids Tyler, Kinse, and Bode along with their mother Nina moving across the country to their father’s childhood home, appropriately and supposedly unironically named “The Key House”.
I didn’t read the graphic novel before reviewing Locke & Key, but get the sense from the pilot that we are only seeing the fringes of Hill’s warped (in a good way) horror mind. For as much as we learn about the house, which is only a little, we spend as much time entering the lives of the kids who are still clearly suffering from their father’s death. There’s the typical high school angst in moving to a new school (a scary proposition on its own) and their battle to overcome having moved across the country. This does slow down the action considerably, and while it’s important in understanding what each kid is dealing with on an emotional level, it’s almost too slow a burn.
But then, of course, there’s the house. Without getting too spoiler-y here, it’s your typical (for a movie/show) big, abandoned mansion that no one in their right mind would ever willingly move into because, well, we’ve seen how this ends from said movies and shows. And here, in this house, is where we begin to see the world Hill is building with Locke & Key. It’s a world where keys have magical powers that can unlock doors to portals in this world and maybe others. It’s a place that’s somewhat infamous in the local lore and possibly sits at the nexus of good and evil. The house, most definitely, has some range.
Locked & Key Director Michael Morris has experience in the suspense department through a number of different genres having helmed episodes for Billions, Halt and Catch Fire, Animal Kingdom, Bloodline and Better Call Saul. Horror? No. Edge of your seat shit, yes. And the screenplay was penned by Hill himself along with Aron Eli Coleite whose comic book experience is definitely utilized. And in terms of mystery worlds where nothing is at it seems? Well, showrunner Carlton Cuse has a little experience there with a show called Lost. Ever heard of it? This is an A+ team of creatives at work.
What they come up with in Locke & Key episode 1 is an establishing shot, giving us just enough sense of the danger the Locke kids are in without bringing us all the way to the edge. Sure, there are some standard conventions like inaudible whispering, voices from nowhere, things that go bump in the night. But there’s also something more here, there’s a world-building that could expand well past things we’ve seen before and it definitely, at least for now, doesn’t appear to include a trip through the wardrobe into the snowing woods of Narnia. No, these are doors that could be scary as hell to walk through.
Outside of the Key House (or maybe because of it), there’s the thread of what happened to Rendell Locke and why? There are folks out there who see the Key House as something very different, something powerful and the mysteries of which the kids will have to figure out on their own.
Locke & Key’s pilot isn’t perfect but it’s enough to make you want to take a trip back. There are layers here that are worth exploring. More doors to open. More keys to turn, if you will.