Review: Lovecraft Country
Updated: Aug 11, 2020
Misha Green's HBO adaptation of Matt Ruff's novel is ferociously compelling
Written by Katherine McLaughlin
In the cracking first episode of Lovecraft Country, directed by Yann Demange, three companions embark on a purposeful road trip across 1950s Jim Crow era America. A rousing speech from James Baldwin plays on the radio, compounding an escalating sense of dread as the Black citizens make an intense dash through a sundown town. This strong introduction superbly sets the scene for a series that depicts adventure and bravery from the perspective of those for who the American dream is hindered by the ugly spectre of racism. It’s a frightening place where threatening monsters loom and violence can erupt at any moment.
The ten-part HBO series is tenderly and shrewdly interpreted from Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name by Misha Green (Jordan Peele is credited as an executive producer). It confronts racism while also relishing in its characters adoration of speculative fiction to the point where any uninitiated viewers are updated on John Carter, Herbert West, Re-Animator and the origins of Arkham with lightning speed and impassioned dialogue.
Korean war veteran, Atticus Freeman (an excellent Jonathan Majors) who has returned to his hometown in search of his missing father Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams), even articulates his troubled relationship with genre, by acknowledging that “Stories are like people. Loving them doesn’t make them perfect. You try to cherish their virtues and overlook their flaws." Atticus is aided in his quest by his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and childhood friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett).
Throughout, the show blends a selection of era-specific tunes with contemporary music from the likes of Rihanna, Marilyn Manson, and Cardi B. The vibrant sense of time and place still feels accurate, with the use of modern elements intensifying the emotional arcs of its characters in brutal, sexy or empowering scenes. All the main characters wrestle with steamy relationship dynamics and thorny themes of identity, and the talented ensemble cast are each given their moment to shine. Wunmi Mosaku – who plays Letitia’s glamorous sister Ruby - turns in an electrifying performance in a stand-out episode directed by Cheryl Dunye (The Watermelon Woman).
The series strikes a fun, thrilling and heady tone, that occasionally stumbles into puzzling territory and the odd jarring special effect. Each episode out of the five viewed so far, veers between unsettling, delightfully spooky and vom-inducing gorefest, as it investigates dark places. It taps a similar vein to shows like True Blood, AHS, American Gothic (1995) and at times, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with its characters heading on episodic adventures together. Lovecraft Country is a ferociously compelling watch, its tendrils burrowing painfully deep into themes of inequality, discrimination and Lovecraftian lore with visual flair and an obvious affection for horror.
Lovecraft Country airs weekly on Sky Atlantic and Now TV from 17th August.