It takes a brave producer to try and fuse two genres that are never naturally in the same room together and make it work, but Lovecraft Country does just that.
J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele’s new HBO series is based on a book of the same name by Matt Ruff. Brilliantly steered by showrunner / producer Misha Green, this is a collision of civil rights with horror, supernatural and occasionally sci-fi.
This may start out as a defiant look at 1950s oppression but it isn’t long before it veers into all kinds of horror and supernatural, in a BLM adjustment to the equilibrium.
Atticus (Jonathan Majors) grew up with a love of storytelling and fantasy. But the stars were always out of reach.
“Heroes go on adventures in other worlds.. no negro boy from south side of Chicago can get to do that..”
Now as a returned Korean War soldier, he leaves his hometown of Chicago in a search of his missing father -with whom he has a troubled relationship. Joining him on a road trip is his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and childhood friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett).
But as they cross statelines, the trio encounter racism and peril at the end of shotguns. Some scenes ramp up from tense to terrifying.
Yet they also encounter monsters of another kind, which is a reference to the author H.P. Lovecraft, from whom this tale is drawn. Lovecraft wrote such novels as Reanimator, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Colour Out of Space, The Dunwich Horror and, especially the ground-breaking, The Call of Cthulhu. But he was also deemed as racist.
Matt Ruff’s story acts as a kind of ‘right of reply,’ putting heroic black characters at the centre of a genre which has traditionally overlooked them and yet immersing it in the deep racism of America in the 1950s. Where is the real horror? Who are the true monsters?
Jonathan Majors, looking distractingly buff in muscle-clad shirts, is magnificently matched by the determination of a dazzling Jurnee Smollett. These two heat up the screen while the episodes twist and turn in a thrill-ride. In the three episodes viewed, there were all kinds of unexpected detours…
The production design is also money on the screen, from American diners and gas stations to haunted houses and twisted mansions.
Just as Black Panther and Watchmen land as empowering works for new audiences, Lovecraft Country cleverly addresses civil rights issues while still managing to remain hugely entertaining from start to finish. Delivering social messages wrapped up in a Hollywood spectacle is powerful stuff indeed.
Lovecraft Country airs 11am Monday on FOX Showcase/ Binge.