wed 06/07/2022

Locke & Key, Netflix review - comic book adaptation struggles to find its focus | reviews, news & interviews

Locke & Key, Netflix review - comic book adaptation struggles to find its focus

Locke & Key, Netflix review - comic book adaptation struggles to find its focus

Teenage coming-of-age saga meets dimension-jumping fantasy

Tyler (Connor Jessup) and Kinsey (Emilia Jones) find weirdness a-plenty at Keyhouse

The comic book of Locke and Key, written by Joe Hill (son of horror writer Stephen King) and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, was first published in 2008, and its mix of multi-generational family drama and supernatural creepiness made it a cult hit.

Various film and TV companies have spent the last decade making desultory efforts to bring it to the screen, and now Netflix have finally managed it.

Whether or not it's what aficionados would have dreamed of, being familiar with the comics would certainly give you a leg up in getting to grips with the TV show. It’s slow to pick up momentum, as if it can't decide where the dramatic focus should be. Is it a story about grief and bereavement, a teenage coming-of-age saga or a high school black comedy? While the elements of other-worldly fantasy are present in abundance, they’re whimsical rather than terrifying, even though we’re frequently told that forces of evil are on the loose. Comparisons to Stranger Things or CS Lewis’s Narnia stories seem a little over-optimistic.

But anyway, the story concerns the Locke family, formerly living in Seattle but now transplanted to their old family home in Matheson, Massachusetts. Dubbed Keyhouse, it’s an an eerie American Gothic pile with distinct echoes of Norman Bates and his mum in Psycho, situated out in acres of rambling countryside. The family – mother Nina, older son Tyler, daughter Kinsey and pre-teen son Bode (pronounced Bodie) – are reeling from the murder of dad Rendell (Bill Heck, pictured above), who in the opening episode we see see being shot by teenager Sam Lesser, who was trying to get his hands on a set of keys he believed were in Rendell’s possession.

As they settle into their apparently new lives, it becomes clear that they’re heavily overshadowed by the past. Tyler (Connor Jessup) and Kinsey (Emilia Jones) attend the same high school their dad went to, and venerable and simpatico English teacher Joe Ridgeway (Steven Williams) has clear memories of teaching Rendell and his school buddies. It seems neither Rendell nor his mates enjoyed much luck in the longevity department – three friends were drowned in an accident at a sea-cave, and recently another has died in a fire and one more is in a psychiatric hospital.

Still, although Nina (Darby Stanchfield) is in a fragile emotional state and recovering from an alcohol problem, her children seem able to rise above their family tragedy, though Tyler exasperates Kinsey by trying to play bossy big brother. Even when Bode starts discovering mysterious keys hidden around the house which unlock doors to various altered states and parallel universes, they regard it as quaintly amusing rather than as a staggering revelation which upends the space-time continuum.

It’s one of Locke & Key’s problems that it struggles to reconcile the day-to-day teen-drama stuff, which works well enough in its own right, with the fantastical other-worldly episodes. Bode discovers a mysterious woman living at the bottom of a well on their property, for instance. It transpires that she’s a demonic force keen to acquire the magic keys for herself, but she’s played by the exotic Laysla De Oliveira (pictured right) more like a Brazilian supermodel who’s somehow got blown off course from New York Fashion Week. Particularly jarring is the clunky device of giving the Lockes keyholes in the back of their necks into which they can insert the appropriate key, which allows them to go on out-of-body explorations or to delve into the recesses of their own consciousness (Kinsey’s mind looks like a candy-coloured shopping mall, with her memories conveniently stored and labelled in brightly coloured boxes).

The tone darkens as more facts about their father and his disturbing past are exhumed, and the history of the house and its mysterious keys starts to come into focus, but the pace never reaches the necessary intensity. Maybe showrunners Carlton Cuse (Lost, Bates Motel) and Meredith Averill (The Haunting of Hill House) were saving their ammunition for subsequent series… assuming there’ll be any.

The tone darkens as more facts about the children's father and his disturbing past are exhumed


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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