Mon. Sep 28th, 2020

TV Review: HBO’s brilliant ‘Lovecraft Country’ fights evils real and supernatural in 1950s Jim Crow America

The cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft permeates HBO’s sensational new drama starring Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett

HBO, alongside Netflix, dominated this year’s Primetime Emmy nominations. It’s no wonder, as both platforms continuously prove themselves to deliver great content to their audience. However, the first streaming service mentioned above may break a bank with its newest series, Lovecraft Country, based on a dark fantasy horror novel by Matt Ruff. The series was developed by Misha Green (Underground ) and produced by her and Jordan Peele (Us) is unlike any other before. It’s a remarkable, unique series that embraces components of the Lovecraftian style while displaying a frightening picture of white America, its racism and police brutality of the 1950s. 

In Jim Crow era Chicago, Atticus Freeman (Da 5 Bloods‘ Jonathan Majors), a dedicated science-fiction fan, arrives in town to look for his missing father, Montrose Freeman (Michael Kenneth Williams of HBO’s The Wire). With the assistance of his childhood friend, Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett, Birds of Prey) and uncle, George Freeman (Emmy winner Courtney B. Vance), the group travels through the 50s America, discovering even more than they wished for. While battling constant racism and police brutality, they come to find out that monsters and magic truly exist amongst them. But that’s not all. After meeting enigmatic Titus Braithwhite (Scandal‘s Tony Goldwyn) and his daughter Christina (Abbey Lee, Mad Max: Fury Road), Tic desires to understand and uncover the deepest secrets of a mysterious secret society, The Order. Atticus, Leti, and George are forced to fight the forces of evil, supernatural monsters, and magic – all in the style of Lovecraft narrative, but not only. At the same time, they have to handle their real lives, disappointments, loves, and police constantly following their footsteps.

Each episode follows a new adventure – one is strictly sci-fi with Demogorgon-like monsters lurking at every turn to attack. Another lands our protagonists at a mysterious mansion where they’re served like kings. Episode after episode, Atticus is closer to this strange world of mystery and magic than ever before. Together with Leti, he seeks and explores truths that were previously hidden from him. Continuous adventures bring them closer together and make them more resilient. But their battle always remains. Whenever the group has a moment of peace, the burning cross suddenly lands in front of their property. Their endless struggle continues even then.

What makes Lovecraft Country one of the most memorable, unique watches is the incredible depth of the series. The history of Jim Crow laws and white America of the 50s is combined with Black protagonists and their occurrences with the supernatural world of H.P. Lovecraft. If one wants to comprehend the power of the new HBO show fully, one has to reach deeper into the writer’s controversial legacy. Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the creator of “cosmic horror,” became a published author after his death at forty-six. His stories (all seventy of them) were full of eeriness, blood, and gore. He wrote about reanimation, cannibalism, animal-human hybrids, and more. Lovecraft inspired such creators as Guillermo Del Toro or even Stephen King. Sadly, next to his creations stood irrefutable racism and bigotry that manifests itself more than once in his works.

Many years later, in 2016, Matt Ruff published a dark fantasy horror novel titled Lovecraft Country, where the author explores the interconnections between racism during Jim Crow laws in the United States and the writing of the late Lovecraft. He achieved it by displaying the amazing adventures of Atticus, Leti, and George. Then, in turn, the showrunner of the series, Misha Green, noticed the book’s potential and its characters. Black main characters are, more often than not, left out of this type of genre. That’s why the creator wanted to elevate Atticus’ adventures and present it to the broader audience. Inspired by Ruff’s novel, Green and Peele create a bloody, gory, and weird cosmic show that explores the themes of 80s sci-fi, mystery, horror, and more.

The first-rate cast dazzles while delivering powerful performances. Each character is extremely well-crafted and thought-out. Majors, who broke through with his role in 2018’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco, is mesmerizing as shy yet resilient Atticus. His energy and personality perfectly harmonize with Smollett’s Leti, who’s very brave, passionate, and incredibly fierce. With the actress’ performance of Black Canary in Birds of Prey and Letitia’s portrayal in Lovecraft Country, this is definitely her year – as she rightfully deserves. Both Atticus and Letitia make a powerful, magnetizing duo that fights everything supernatural while battling real-life demons who want to see them fail. 

Another artist who stunningly showcases her incredible talent is Wunmi Mosaku (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) who portrays Leti’s sister, Ruby. The fourth episode of the series, directed by Cheryl Dunye (The Watermelon Woman) especially proves her immense intensity as an actress. It gives Ruby an exceptional character development that will charm and truly astound the audience. Courtney B. Vance (American Crime Story) and Michael Kenneth Williams (When They See Us) also deserve recognition for their roles of two brothers who have some unfinished business and hidden resentment towards each other. 

Misha Green’s vision was to create a series where she can explore and reinvent certain horror genres in the style of Goonies, Indiana Jones, or even Stranger Things. She created a layered, elevated form of storytelling. To do the absolute best, she brought Cheryl Dunye, Yann Demange, or Daniel Sackheim on board to visualize the script and bring it to life. Together with amazing costume design by Dayna Pink, we are blessed with the unique picture and the unnerving narrative that will often force you to the back of your seat.

Lovecraft Country is not for a viewer with a weak stomach. The audience sees blood, guts, beheadings, and skin peeling in almost every episode. All special effects are impeccable thanks to KNB EFX Group that specializes in makeup, prosthetics, animatronics, and more. Green teamed up with the firm to create the most outstanding visual effects. One of the most phenomenal, compelling scenes (visually speaking) is the scene of an exorcism. In it, we see ghosts, baby heads, gashes, wounds, and more. The moment of unity and understanding between the dead and alive amazes the viewer in that particular scene.

Each episode takes a breath away and surprises the audience with a new element of action, another excellent character, or a plot twist that has the viewer at the edge of their seat. Lovecraft Country is extraordinary. The audience gets introduced to the all-Black main cast of incredible, complex, multidimensional people who portray characters that don’t only display their everyday fight against racism and police brutality, but also showcase their battle against everything supernatural gory, or cursed. Every, even the most subtle element intertwines with the next one in a perfect, bloody harmony, creating a gratifying watch for the audience. 

Lovecraft Country also resonates in our modern society. It’s not only a visually pleasing, elevated drama packed with special effects and gore. It also forces us to reflect on the show, especially in times of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against extreme police brutality. The series created by Misha Green is an important part of the larger, crucial conversation that we all ought to have. 

Lovecraft Country will be available to stream weekly on HBO platforms on August 16th.

GRADE: A

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