When Netflix announced they were adapting Locke and Key a lot of us around the office got excited. But one question loomed large, would Locke and Key be any good? Would it be like the comic? Now that the series has finally dropped we take a look at the streaming giants adaptation of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s genre bending comic Locke and Key.
Let’s get this out front – I am a big fan of Joe Hill’s work. I would consider Locke and Key among his better works. I’ve found it baffling that it has taken as long as it has to make it to the small screen. Seeing the first episode, I think I understand why. That’s not to say that it was bad. In fact some of it was awesome, and I truly enjoyed it. But there are a lot of ways this could go south quickly.
First off – the comic by Hill and Rodriguez is not a teen drama; it is a dark, and at times intense, tale examining grief, family, and the nature of evil. So, when I saw the TV-14 rating, my expectations for this show began a steady decline. The opening scene didn’t do a lot to persuade me otherwise. The inciting incident that dominated the first issue of the comic is replaced with an almost laughable attempt at an X-files style cold open. This is followed by an introduction that is fraught with cinematic horror cliches. Some shots that would otherwise be beautiful and compelling are reduced by their well worn nature. When we do finally get to the incident that mars the lives of the Locke family, it is considerably toned down.
I am not a big fan of gore and torture. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to seeing horrific events carried out in detail on the screen. However, toning down some of the ghastly elements of the comic also tones down the impact of the tale. Hill is not a wanton shock artist, the darkness served a purpose. Without it, it is hard to see how this series will rise above a dozen other teen supernatural dramas. But there are some positives here too.
The cast is actually fairly perfect. Even if they don’t always look like their comic counterparts, they feel like it. Which is far more important. Uncle Duncan (Aaron Ashmore – identical twin to Shawn Ashmore i.e. X-men’s Iceman) is an absolute scene stealer. The role had originally gone to Nick Stahl in the first attempt to bring the series to life. Which, I thought was perfect casting. But, Ashmore brings a warmth to the character that Hill himself attempted but hadn’t quite nailed. The family dynamic, which is the crux of the series, works very well.
Despite a rocky start to the episode, the series does have some lovely set pieces, great lighting and atmosphere, and interesting special effects. I also love the opening credit scene. While I am admittedly disappointed with the teen focus of the series, there is a level of aristy here that is noteworthy and could make up for what was lost in translation.
The show makes some fairly large departures from the first issue of the comic, which ultimately are understandable if not forgivable. While I won’t go so far as to say they add to the story they do move things along at pace that is more necessary to television. But this also highlights what could be the show’s biggest downfall.
Part of the fun of Locke and Key is the mystery behind it. Hill expertly unravels a sprawling horror fantasy epic. Discovering the secrets of Keyhouse is part of the fin of the story. The show however, uses clunky exposition to speed the process along.
I think it is safe to say this is not the adaptation many of us had hoped for. That doesn’t mean that we should ignore it though. This has all the elements of a great young adult dark fantasy thriller. Netflix has put out several really solid efforts in this genre Stranger Things, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (the Teenage Witch), and the tragically cut short Daybreak. Given the strength and unique nature of the source material I think we can still expect a good show here.