HBO’s Lovecraft Country Premiere Review
*This Review Contains Full Spoilers*
With a ton of big names behind HBO’s new series Lovecraft Country, based on the novel of the same name by Matt Ruff, including Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams as executive producers and Misha Green acting as both an executive producer and a main teleplay writer, the stage was set for it to deliver a unique blend of real-life and Lovecraftian horrors – and boy does it deliver.
In a similar vein to Perry Mason, the premiere of Lovecraft Country not only introduces us to its characters, but also, it’s world. Set in the 1950s, at the height of segregation and racism across the United States, the series follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors), a veteran and major pulp fiction aficionado, as he leaves the Jim Crow South to head back to his hometown of Chicago after he hears that his father (Michael K. Williams) has gone missing. With Atticus’ late mother having some kind of powerful ancestry that has always piqued his father’s interests, Atticus believes that he could’ve went to Ardham, a town in Massachusetts originating from a book by legendary horror author H.P. Lovecraft, to uncover their family secrets. So, with help of his charismatic and well-read Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) as well as his childhood friend Leti (Jurnee Smollet), Atticus travels to Ardham to uncover his supposed birthright and find his father.
Frankly, there isn’t a trio more talented and incredibly exciting to see than what we have here. While Vance has been killing as an actor for over two decades, Smollet and Majors are absolutely stars on the rise and seeing all three of them here is an absolute delight because their chemistry is great. Vance carries so much charisma and charm as a family man while also displaying some social smarts as someone who marks locations that are safe for Black Americans to travel. Smollet displays Leti’s more individualistic mindset in a very engaging way and she comes off as a very relevantly relatable character with us finding out about her closeness to protests and helping them not be incarcerated. This choice of profession has caused major ripple with her sister Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) and her brother Marvin (Demetrius Grosse). It’s also a blast to see her get behind the wheel for some surprisingly tense action sequences and I’m never going to get tired of her booming voice belt out some incredible vocals.
Majors easily delivers the strongest and most intriguing performance as he elevates the complex feelings Atticus has towards his father as well as the world and has a love of sci-fi and Lovecraft that’s hard to resist. Throughout the episode, it’s easy to see that Atticus isn’t really sure how to feel about searching for his father since the two have an uneasy past and he even joined the army just to get away from him. In some ways, this divide between Atticus and his father has also driven him to become so intrigued into more fantasy sci-fi, pulp fiction literature as his father heavily disapproved of it and wanted him to be more interested in the works of Black writers – like Alexander Dumas. Atticus is more of a fan of John Carter novels and the works of Lovecraft as he likes being transported to a new world and it’s hard not to understand why.
Lovecraft Country establishes its horrific world of racism to an effective level that’s almost more terrifying than the Lovecraftian monsters that come into play. As our main three head towards Ardham, the premiere establishes unique hardships that they face as they come across extreme and even deadly acts of racism. From walking into a set-up house that leads them to be hunted down by a group of white-supremacists to dealing with a cop that enforces a “sundown town” policy, which I didn’t know existed before this and am now appalled that it ever did, that continues to harass them until they reach the county line, the monsters they face later on pale in comparison to the monsters they face in their normal lives. There’s this excellent amount of tension that comes when the group encounters racist remarks and actions from white people and even the gawks they get from white bystanders really leaves a lasting mark.
However, it’s great how they never crumble under the discrimination they face and find ways to outmaneuver and even fight back against their aggressors. Even as they are being aggressively run down by a blood-hungry white officer or are forced into a high-speed car chase in order to escape a group of deadly white supremacists, these three still come off capable and even unafraid. There’s definitely is slight complacency that has started to develop within them that’s made them try to brush off and play nice with some of the racist remarks they get. In some ways, they’ll do just so they can survive just another day and it’s clear by the events towards the end of the episode that they’re at their breaking point.
They’re never hindered or weakened by their frustrations, though, and prove themselves to be capable and intelligent in ways that the horror genre has never allowed black characters to be. I loved how unafraid Uncle George and Atticus are in the face of danger and how Leti is eager to prove herself and is unwilling to let these two just keep her away from the wheel. Frankly, it’s great that these three are both an absolute blast and incredibly capable in the face of danger because they’re about to face some unnatural horrors that just live and breathe Lovecraft.
The opening is a purely nightmarish dreamscape that feels as if it’s come straight from the mind of Lovecraft himself. With aliens and tentacle monsters invading a booming WWII battlefield, it’s visual sight to behold and even having Jackie Robinson (Robert Hamilton) as well as an strange alien woman (Jamie Chung) talk to Atticus in his dream is the perfect way to tease up the great finale this premiere has. Just as the group is at the gunpoint of a group of white police officers, a ravenous and gruesome beast comes to their rescue – well sort of. Seeing jaws get ripped off and an officers get absolutely decimated showcases that this series isn’t holding back on any bloodshed and the finale sequences sets up the first creature for the series, a vampiric monsters of sorts, to great effect.
Part of me is curious if their sudden appearance when Atticus was in trouble has anything to do with this supposed powerful ancestry his father went to find. Regardless, it’s a great showing that this series has a solid effects budget and teases some of the horrific monsters we’re definitely going to more of going forward. We also get a tease of something strange happening with a wealthy family in Ardham as we’re left with a final moment of the group entering the home of a wealthy woman (Abbey Lee) who we saw take out the group of gunmen with her car – without even touching them.
Lovecraft Country delivers a flawless premiere with incredibly capable and likeable characters, a compelling world that blends the real-life horrors of 1950s Jim Crow America with wildly strange elements of Lovecraftian horror, and sets up a strong start for an enticing mystery. It’s a major must-watch as it shows major potential to be the show of 2020 that people can’t stop talking about.
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