Odd, unsettling, and stoked in mystical mystery. Yes, HBO Max's Lovecraft country hits all the thematic elements of your typical H.P. Lovecraft novel. Adapted from the novel of the same name, Lovecraft Country is another first-class drama from HBO Max that is more than deserving of the critical praise that it’s receiving.
Lovecraft Country was produced by Jordan Peele, who's most known for his Oscar award-winning film, Get Out. Even though Peele only serves as a producer for the series his influence can be felt on the series’ tone and structure. Although in some places, it does not have the nuance and subtlety that you see in “Us” and “Get Out.”But then again, this is a different genre.
Taking place in the late 1950s, Lovecraft Country's story follows four African-American characters as they navigate the segregated United States in the 1950s. The overarching plot is kicked off when the lead, Atticus Freeman, receives a letter from his father after learning he’d gone missing. From there we follow Atticus, his uncle George and childhood friend Latitia as they travel to Massachusetts to find what had happened to Atticus’ father. From there the leads battle racism, cults, monsters, magic, and the sins of their forebears. Lovecraft Country’s story will have you on the edge of your seat, watching episode after episode.
Lovecraft Country accurately conveys the deep-rooted institutional racism and complex race relations of segregated 1950’s America in almost every episode. But that’s not what’s impressive about Lovecraft Country. What is impressive is that Lovecraft Country shows the raw unfiltered racism of the time while constructing a complex magical mystery.
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There will be times where you’re watching Lovecraft Country and forget that the show has anything to do with the occult. The first episode uses racial tensions to catapult the tempo of the show and get your heart racing. This momentum is used to transfer the scare factor to the magic/monsters you see, soon after. The show tackle issues of racism, race relations, female independence, sexual identity, parental abuse and so much more in a way that never feels condescending or preachy.
Lovecraft Country succeeds in creating a captivating fantasy narrative for the same reason Game Of Thrones did in its early seasons. Lovecraft Country isn’t a show about magic, it’s a show about characters and the world they inhabit just so happens to have magic throughout. Each episode in the series focuses on a different character and how their discovery of, and interactions with magic affect them. Lovecraft Country’s story succeeds because before it does anything else the show makes you care about its characters.
Lovecraft Country takes place in the 1950s and makes no effort to hide the truth of that era. Following African American leads, they deal with everything African Americans of the time had to deal with (plus a lot of weird magic).
The truth of the world of Lovecraft Country is revealed to the audience at a slow and steady pace. Characters discover things gradually and as they do so your eyes will be glued to the screen with the characters doing extraordinary things in incredibly gruesome ways. This is because the magic in Lovecraft Country isn’t the clean fairytale magic, you’d see in a Tolkien novel. No, the magic in Lovecraft Country is brutal, visceral, and harsh. This goes along with how everything else is portrayed in Lovecraft Country, viscerally, and without any filters.
Lovecraft Country’s unfiltered experience also applies to how it deals with the higher conceptual, weirder subject matter you’ll find throughout the show. Lovecraft Country doesn’t shy away from anything and takes steps to show you things that may make you uncomfortable but challenge the audience and are honest, nevertheless.
Cast and Characters
The entire cast of Lovecraft Country turns in fantastic performances. That much is clear to anyone watching the series for any significant amount of time. Jonathan Majors plays the role of the main character with a past tortured by the things he did during his time in Korea.
With only one starring role before playing Atticus Freeman in Lovecraft Country (he starred as Montgomery Allen in the independent film, The Last Black Man in San Francisco) Majors’ performance in Lovecraft Country seems that much more impressive. Majors is completely believable in the role of Atticus, as a man trying to do the right thing while being weighed down by the guilt of his past. Whether emoting subtle subtext or portraying sheer brutal physicality in a fight, Jonathan Majors does a fantastic job in the role of Atticus Freeman.
While I gave special praise to Jonathan Majors for his turn as Atticus Freeman because of his lack of prior experience but that doesn’t take away from what the rest of the cast did. All the actors in Lovecraft Country seem to melt into their roles and bring their characters to life in the process. Every character in this series feels like someone that could have existed in the 1950s. Each character has flaws, motivations, wants, and desires that the audience can relate to and are challenged by.
Also, the last thing that deserves praise is the natural chemistry between all the cast members. In every single scene where characters interact things feel natural and genuine. Even as characters go through significant changes and arcs throughout the series there is never a moment where characters reacting with each other feels anything but natural.
What Could Have Been Better
This section may seem like nothing but petty nitpicks, but I’m going to keep this section spoiler-free. The first issue that I had was with the series’ first villain. It’s not that this character was bad, silly, or nonsensical, it’s that he felt like a Scooby-Doo villain. Meaning that it was too obvious who the villains were and that they wouldn’t succeed.
Another thing was that the show could have been a little less on the nose in a few places, and used more subtle metaphors, such as in “Get Out.” Although later on in the season, the metaphors do get better.
Also, extremely late in the season a character that was seemingly cast off for no reason is also suddenly forgiven and fully integrated into the lead's family with what seems to be no explanation. It just seems a bit odd that a tight-knit family that had been through so much by this point in the story would simply welcome a magical stranger.
A scene where this “new” character was at least given a small introduction to the larger ensemble but all we get is one member of the Freeman family having dinner with a character and then this character is basically integrated into the family. So integrated into the family that they’re seen interacting with the family like they’d been around them for years. It’s a bit odd but you’ll only think about it after the credits start rolling.
Should I Watch It? Definitely
The short answer is yes. The long answer is yes. And every answer in between is also yes. It’s one of the most original, creative, and interesting shows that's been shown for a long time. Will the brutal violence turn some people off? Yes. Is the weird style of Lovecraftian horror tailored for a mass audience appeal? No. But none of that should stop you from at least giving this show a chance. It balances contradicting factors masterfully and produces a show that is in equal parts exciting, engaging, challenging, and scary.
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