Locke & Key Season One Review
A man is walking up to his front door when he receives a call on his mobile phone. Upon answering a voice simply states “Rendell Locke is dead”. We see the man enter his house, remove a key from a safe and then unexpectedly stick it in a keyhole in his chest. He turns the key and immediately bursts into flames, immolating himself and burning down his house. So starts the Netflix adaptation of Locke & Key, based on the comic book series written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. It’s a startling and intriguing opening that immediately draws you in. Indeed the whole first episode does a good job of setting up the show’s main premise.
I’d like to say that season one of Locke & Key holds the viewers interest for its entire 10 episode run but unfortunately it doesn’t quite manage it. There is a lot to like and the story is interesting and certainly has potential. It’s a shame that some lapses in logic harm the story and a few less than stellar performances mar an otherwise enjoyable show.
We are quickly introduced to the Locke family. Nina is mother to three children, Tyler, Kinsey and the youngest, Bode. Nina’s husband was the aforementioned Rendell Locke who we have already been told has died. In a series of flashbacks we discover he was a school guidance counsellor who was gunned down by a disturbed student. In a bid to get a fresh start the Locke family decide to move across country and take up residence in the coastal town of Matheson. Here they move into their families ancestral home of Key House, a foreboding gothic structure that just screams haunted house. Sure enough, it’s not long before an exploring Bode finds the well house and hears a woman’s voice emanating from the bottom of the well. Informing him that she’s his echo the voice provides some much needed exposition and explains that there are keys hidden throughout the appropriately named Key House. These are magic keys that soon whisper their locations to Bode and thus set in to motion the next chapter of a story that stretches back centuries.
At times it feels like Netflix were going for a blend of Stranger Things and The Haunting of Hill House. Falling short of either Locke & Key doesn’t have the nostalgic charm and fantastic characterisations of the former nor the pervading dread and eeriness of the latter. It also doesn’t have the visual flair and inventiveness of The Umbrella Academy, the other big comic adaptation from Netflix. A major problem is the amount of time spent following mostly unrelated storylines at the local high school. This makes the show feel more like Riverdale or a The CW teen drama rather than an adaptation of a well respected horror/fantasy comic series. Concentrating on this part of the story seems to come at the expense of the far more interesting saga involving the magical keys. I personally found that for large swathes of the narrative the keys play second fiddle and aren’t used to their full potential. Another issue is that this premiere season is doing a lot of heavy lifting and putting a lot of things in place for further exploration down the line. Inevitability this leaves a lot of loose ends and storylines that currently seem unresolved. Whether further seasons tie up all these strands satisfactorily remains to be seen.
A major issue I had was with some of the acting on display. The main culprit is the youngest sibling Bode, played by Jackson Robert Scott. As much as I don’t want to pick on a little kid, some of his delivery is whiney to put it politely and it seems to get worse as the show goes on. No stranger to these sort of stories Scott is best known as Georgie Denbrough, the ill-fated brother of Stuttering Bill in Stephen King’s IT. It’s hard to judge his performance from that movie as he barely gets to say anything before losing an arm to everyone’s favourite sewer dwelling clown. Though it pains me to say it, at times I was getting a Jake Lloyd in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace vibe from his performance. Several times I found myself expecting him to exclaim “Wizard!” when he got excited.
On the other end of the spectrum, at times I found Darby Stanchfield’s performance as the head of the Locke family to be quite dull and lifeless. Not helped by the fact that the script doesn’t give her a lot to do, Stanchfield plays everything very low key. When she is given a juicy scene, such as when she falls off the wagon after six years of sobriety, she plays it far too broad. I appreciate that she is mean to be playing a widow coming to terms with the death of her husband, but I can’t help but feel a more accomplished actress would have delivered a far more nuanced performance.
Fairing a lot better with a much more interesting role, as they often are, is the villain of the piece, Dodge. Linked to the mysterious past of Key House, Dodge seeks the Omega key. Played with a detached coolness by Laysla De Oliveira, there is an actual sense of threat when she is on screen. Although the producers have leaned away from the more horrific aspects of the comics to focus more on the fantasy elements, Dodge is still a villain that is capable of true evil. Just as you accept Locke & Key as a teenage melodrama, the show suddenly reminds you that Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King and has Dodge push a random innocent child in front of a train. When it comes to the writers appetite for shock value the apple certainly doesn’t fall far from the tree. The show works best when it gets darker. At its core is deals with some compelling themes of death and guilt. Rendell’s murder and the subsequent perceived guilt felt by Tyler add depth, as does the backstory that unfolds surrounding the mysterious drownings of several teenagers that have become folklore in the town of Matheson.
The first few episodes set up the idea of the keys nicely and introduce a lot of the rules and lore concerning their use. The head key allows you to literally travel inside your mind. There is a key that produces fire, another that allows you to travel through a doorway to anywhere you’ve already seen. One key opens a portal into a dangerous mirror world where Nina is almost trapped and another allows you to leave your body behind and fly around ghostlike and talk to long dead ancestors. My issue with the keys is that they tend to fixate on just a few of them, presumably saving some for later seasons.
When it comes to the climatic showdown between the Lockes and the demonic Dodge, the keys become sort of irrelevant and are hardly used. Ithe finale is where a lot of the show’s flaws are most highlighted. Huge lapses in logic and reason occur when characters start making questionable decisions seemingly just so they can constantly keep splitting up and causing problems for themselves. With all the magical and dangerous events going on around them, would an older brother and sister just let their young sibling just go off on their own? Most of these sort of decisions seem to have been made purely to put people into danger and also to allow for copious usage of a key that lets you change your physical appearance. Knowing that the enemy has that power, would you really trust anyone that you haven’t been in constant contact with? This convenient and haphazard plotting is probably the show’s worst failing.
It is refreshing to see a differently abled character whose condition is never specifically referred to. Logan is a double amputee who helps the Locke family in their battle against Dodge. Not once does his lack of legs play any part of the story. They are only actually mentioned once when Tyler comments on his shorts. “Do my legs look cold to you?” is Logan’s reply. He’s simply a side character , no different to any of the other friends who band together to fight the evil. This is the sort of diversity in a TV show that absolutely works. It’s not stunt casting, just showing that people with all sorts of body shapes exist in society. Hopefully this sort of casting, with no fanfare, will become the norm.
Again, in proving he’s just like his dad, Joe Hill makes a cameo as an ambulance driver. His resemblance to his father, both in physical appearance and his voice, are quite uncanny. If anyone ever makes a biopic of the older King, they need look no further for someone to portray him during his younger days. Talking of cameos, Kinsey falls in with a group of horror film nerds who call themselves ‘the Savini’s’. Therefore it wasn’t much of a shock when Bode goes to visit a locksmith who is portrayed by none other than horror makeup legend Tom Savini himself.
So Locke & Key is a bit of a mixed beast. Some unsatisfying performances coupled with strange plot choices make the show less than the sum of its parts. Frustratingly, it feels like it’s only a few different choices away from being a solid show. Less of the high school drama and more of the fantastical elements would improve things no end. Hopefully if the show is renewed for another season they can address this balance and tie up some of the numerous loose ends that have been left hanging. Netflix have taken an excellent comic book and made it into a distinctly average TV show, entertaining enough but ultimately forgettable.