Saturday, May 15, 2021

Lovecraft Country Review: A tangled Horror

Lovecraft Country Review: From the very beginning of HBO’s brilliant new show “Lovecraft Country,” it’s clear that things are not what they seem. Monsters, both in real-life and supernatural kind, lurk by in every corner. 

The show opens with a fantastical battle involving American soldiers circa WWII, Roman gladiators, a giant squid, a sexy neon-red alien, and Jackie Robinson.

But it’s soon revealed to be nothing more than a dream conjured up by Atticus “Tic” Freeman (Jonathan Majors), a Korean war veteran and sci-fi enthusiast who fell asleep on his bus back to Chicago.

It’s a relatively simple beginning. It is one that cleverly foreshadows the familiar (and unfamiliar) terrors that await Tic in the coming episodes. 

Based on Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name and produced by Jordan Peele. The show seeks to confront prejudices like racism, white gentrification and homophobia. Its pulp fiction directly tied into its portrayal of the horrors of racial segregation in America enforced by Jim Crow law.

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Rising stars Jonathan Majors (Da 5 Bloods) and Jurnee Smollett (Birds Of Prey) are in the lead. The first episode is captivating and sharply focused in its combination of monstrous racial violence with unearthly monsters. Atticus’ complicated love of Lovecraft’s books is quickly forgotten and replaced by a thorny relationship with his father. Though, it’s a moment that acts as the thesis for the show. Confronting the genre’s racist roots and the landscape that enabled that hatred.

Jurnee Smollett as Leti Lewis in ‘Lovecraft Country’. Credit: HBO

Lovecraft Country paints the idea of white gentrifiers as other worldly horrors across a number of separate tales. This branches off from its main narrative. The deep-seated racism of Lovecraft’s horror here manifests as antagonists to the characters.

For instance, monsters appear after dark in a so-called ‘sundown county’ (an gaggressively segregated all-white community.) Ghosts of previous owners emerge in a house in a hostile, predominantly white suburb. But the most nightmarish moments are the real ones, set in the show’s Jim Crow context.

It’s interestingly not all miserable! Atticus and friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) are funny and charming. They at least get to sometimes bear witness to their white adversaries falling victim to horrifying retribution.

The show gets mirky and confusing sometimes.  It’s overwhelming, and messy, mostly intentionally. Especially when between-episodes, transitions feel so disjointed and tonally jarring that there’s virtually an anthology effect. But it never stops entertaining.

Verdict

Overall, the show is exhilarating and fun to watch. Though, it doesn’t present itself as an antidote to racism by any means. But elevates Black characters and Black experiences in a genre where they’ve typically been ignored.

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