Review: Netflix's LOCKE & KEY Premiere 'Feels Right at Home' (9/10)

Locke & Key
Credit: Netflix
Credit: Netflix

Locke & Key: Season One, Episode one, “Welcome to Matheson"
Directed by Michael Morris
Written by Joe Hill and Aron Eli Coleite
Starring Darby Stanchfield, Connor Jessup, Emilia Jones, Jackson Robert Scott, Petrice Jones, Laysla De Oliveira.
Airing on Netflix February 7
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

After almost a decade of false starts and being in development hell, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke & Key makes it to the small screen via Netflix this week.

Yes, for real this time. All 10 episodes of the first season drop at once, ready to binge and digest. If you’re not familiar with the story, to sum it up: Locke & Key focuses on the Locke family after their father was murdered by a student and they move into their old family estate that possesses dark secrets with magical keys that unlock them in various ways.

The first episode, “Welcome to Matheson,” which plays on the original first volume’s title of “Welcome to Lovecraft” (presumably named for Richard Matheson, author of The Omega Man, so not exactly too on the nose) introduces viewers to the Locke children and their particular traits, as Cherry Glazerr’s “Wasted Nun” plays on. We see Bode (Scott, who was also cast in the Hulu pilot) with this enthusiasm and creativity, Kinsey (Jones) and her teenage cavalier attitude, Tyler (Jessup) and his need to establish himself as the alpha since his father was killed. Their mother Nina (Stanchfield) is suffering through her own trauma and reliving her husband’s murder as well as her own attack, which we undertand even before the first five minutes of the episode.

Credit: Netflix

It’s a solid crash course for those who haven’t been initiated with the IDW series, but if you’re looking for a straight up adaptation, you’re better off sticking with the books. What the Netflix showrunners (one being Meredith Averil of The Haunting of Hill House) end up changing doesn’t hinder at all the kind of magic and horror the show presents to its viewers, and caters to fans of the kind of stories that the books represent and tell. Stories of family, loss, and obviously the demons that live alongside us, even if they inhabit just the well.

Upon arriving at the new abode, mysteries start to pop up again as the children start to wonder why everyone in the new town of Matheson knows their name. Duncan Locke (Aaron Ashmore) introduces the children to their ancestral home we get a sense of how much Kinsey and Tyler were close to their father, though Kinsey being slightly more affectionate towards him. We’re soon directed to a flashback of Rendell Locke’s murder at the hands of Sam Lesser (Thomas Mitchel Barnet) demanding answers about Key House. Soon after, the real mystery appears as Bode hears a foreboding voice coming from the well and if it’s one thing we’ve learned from past experiences, that’s never a good thing.

Credit: Netflix

Obviously the changes are going to be noticed right from the start; there is no Al Grubb, and Tyler is the most radical departure from his comic character. There’s a lot of simplification to the story, but at the same time, it gets to the bare bones of who the characters are; they’re accessible, even if the first episode throws a lot of them out you at once. There’s the Lockes, six of them right there, then add in schoolmates, Sam, and Dodge, it gets overwhelming quickly.

Outside of the Locke children, Laysla De Oliveira makes a career-making performance as Dodge, who could be the breakout star of the show but again, a lot of characters right out of the gate but does a great job of standing out with her malicious and come-hither tones. The large ensemble doesn’t hinder your ability to enjoy the first episode, but it doesn’t get easier from here.

With a creative team that gave fans shows like Bates Motel and The Haunting of Hill House, the tone - even the music - feels right at home, but some parts might seem like Stranger Things-lite to those diehards who wanted a lean into more of the darker elements of the original story. The keymakers and prop masters do an excellent job of forging the keys for the show, especially the Anywhere Key and the intricacies of making that from a bracelet. Amazing design work all around, truly.

Locke & Key might seem like a familiar story in the beginning but those hardcore fans who have been clamoring for this for so long, understand that the worse is yet to come for the Locke family.

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