NOTE: Here is my review from Soda & Telepaths that was posted back on April 15th, 2020.
In 2008 IDW Publishing released the first issue of Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez. The book gained a cult following pretty quickly and was actually optioned to be a TV series back in 2011. They even shot a pilot for Fox TV which would’ve starred, not kidding, Jesse McCartney AKA that kid who sang Beautiful Soul (I don’t know why this amuses me, I thought I’d share that info anyway).
Fox ended up passing on the property which was potentially going to be turned into a trilogy of films before Hulu bought the rights and had another pilot made in 2017 with the recent director of Doctor Strange at the helm. That also got dropped and now we have the director of the It franchise handling the show for Netflix. For a show that’s had this kind of production history, it’s a miracle it turned out as good as it did.
Locke & Key follows the Locke family who have just moved into Key house… I promise, the puns stop hurting very quickly. Having moved to Key house after the tragic murder of the patriarch of the family. The family needed to find somewhere that they could cope with their grief. Strangely enough, they chose the murdered patriarch’s childhood home to do this but hey, we all grieve in different ways.
The youngest Locke, Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) is exploring the house one day when he hears something calling to him, soon discovering a key that will allow him to go literally anywhere. He shows this to his older brother Tyler (Connor Jessup) and older sister Kinsey (Emilia Jones) and they all seem to think this could be very fun.
Sadly, Locke & Key is based on a story written by the son of Stephen King so, therefore, there’s an evil woman named Dodge (Laysla De Oliveira) who keeps popping up to scare the kids and try to take the keys that they keep finding since every key has a different strange power and Dodge needs a specific Omega key to do some super evil thing.
Locke & Key plays like a really good CW Supernatural show where the demons and magic are secondary to the interpersonal relationships between the main characters. The bulk of this series is around the Locke family coping with the death of their father, either through rebelling or alcoholism or just escaping into imagination where the harsh reality of what happened can’t hurt. It delves into this fairly well even though it does take a while to let the mother of the family, Nina (Darby Stanchfield), have her moment where she finally breaks down.
It’s all played very well by this incredibly likable cast who almost make you want less of the magic stuff so you can get to know their characters better. Fortunately, when Locke & Key does delve into the magical element of the series, it’s quite a treat. The way they translate each of the keys powers on screen is superb. For a while, Locke & Key acts like a monster-of-the-week show, except with magical keys. Giving us a full episode to really come to terms with what each key means really helps them slowly build towards the climax and gives us some very fun episodes.
Personally, I’m fond of Episode 3, “Head Games”, where they discover something known as the Head Key and go inside the minds of several main characters. It’s the episode where they make the best use of the visual medium with some of the best gags. I appreciate that the youngest kid’s brain is basically an arcade with a bunch of Jack-In-The-Box toys containing his memories. Plus, this episode culminates with Kinsey pulling the representation of fear out of her head, creating a fun character change that pushes everything towards the climax.
Popping up throughout Locke & Key is the villain Dodge who is oddly fascinating. At first she barely even seems that evil, just a little bit odd but the gradual progression with the character throughout the series allows her to turn into a very imposing evil that keeps things going. If something feels like we might be getting bogged down in the teenage drama, Dodge will pop up and mess someone up and we’ll get to keep going.
She’s also played expertly by Laysla De Oliveira who basically steals Locke & Key whenever she’s on-screen. She has one particular moment around episode 6-7 where she has to go from seductive to psychotic in a few seconds and it’s amazing.
Speaking of Episode 7, “Dissection”, that’s the emotional climax of Locke & Key. Possibly the episode where every major actor gets to show off the most, it’s the second high point for the series filled with a ton of tension. Most of the series only has a few spots of genuine horror, usually surrounding Dodge but this one is nothing but brutal punishing horror related to the characters past. Not only is it just a great episode full of tension and great acting but it’s what propels the series to its very satisfying climax.
Now, this isn’t to say Locke & Key is perfect. Some storylines just get left in the dust, there’s one character who switches motivations for no reason (other than to put them in a specific place for season 2) and there are several very powerful keys that get used once for jokes when they could’ve been worked into the plot. There’s still room for improvement here, but what’s already here is genuinely enjoyable and makes me excited to see what Season 2 will bring.