‘Lovecraft Country’ Review: HBO’s Sci-Fi/Horror Mash-up Is a Mysterious Yet Essential Journey

     August 16, 2020

lovecraft-country-courtney-b-vance-jonathan-majors-jurnee-smollett-2-sliceWhat do you get when a letter about a missing father and mystical birthright take a man and those closest to him on a journey unlike any before? You get Lovecraft Country, a horror-drama from the astute mind of Misha Green (Underground) and based on the novel of the same name by Matt Ruff (The Mirage) that unleashes secrets, legacy, and gore on one family’s quest to find the truth. Jonathan Majors (Last Black Man in San Francisco) stars as war veteran Atticus, aka Tic, whose return home to Chicago after hiding out in Florida is rooted in finding his hardened and stubborn father Montrose Freeman (Michael Kenneth Williams, The Wire). While the events surrounding his father’s disappearance are puzzling, the letter Tic receives from Montrose serves as a guide and catapults him, his uncle George Freeman (Courtney B. Vance, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story), and his childhood friend Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett, Underground) down a darker path than they could have ever imagined or conjured.

As a usually reluctant horror watcher, for fear of losing sleep and/or my mind out of sheer terror, I purposefully walked into Lovecraft Country with limited knowledge of the series, other than the fact that it was helmed by a Black woman showrunner and that there would be elements of science fiction revolving around a Black family. With my favorite fandoms being at the intersection of Blackness and Sci-fi/fantasy, what more could my heart desire? For me, Lovecraft Country presents as more of an anthology narrative series with elements that reminded me of not only Fringe but also National Treasure, Pirates of the Caribbean, Alien, and The Skulls. Highly intense and action-packed, with mind-blowing granular details that paint an even grander picture, every episode has the ability to stand alone, yet the themes work together to continue to drive the overarching main storyline. Lovecraft Country is a chilling, heartfelt, dark, intriguing, and overwhelming piece of art. Even when the horror elements got the best of me, I still couldn’t turn off this wild ride.

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Image via HBO

Lovecraft Country boldly begins by unearthing the sins of many fathers and thrusting their heirs’ lives into unforeseen tracks, thus spiraling them into other dimensions. Tackling the complexities of families from the lens of generational curses and blessings cloaked in disillusions, Tic finds out that he is the key to unsealing years of repressed family paradoxes, history, and more. Tic is brilliant, book-smart, but also fiercely complicated — never divulging what happened during his time in the war but always clinging to his mysterious past in South Korea, Tic’s life goals focus on being a better man than Montrose, an alcoholic who often chose discipline over love with his son. Witnessing familial challenges early on, Tic has been retreating into sci-fi books of all sorts to keep him occupied and informed since childhood. It’s Tic’s inquisitive nature and thirst for knowledge that forges a special bond between him and his uncle George, Montrose’s older brother. George is the owner of a Black safe travel business that also includes a published guidebook of restaurants and rest stops with reviews. At the behest of the letter and some perplexing talk of an inheritance, Tic is determined to make it to his deceased mother’s hometown of Ardham, Massachusetts to not only look for Montrose, but also find that which is rightfully his. George without hesitation joins his nephew on this search.

Rounding out the adventuring crew is Leti, a free-spirited photographer and activist who rarely comes home to Chicago. Strong and resilient, Leti indulges in all of life’s liberties devoid of responsibilities, which her half-siblings resent. They admonish her for living on other people’s dimes, particularly theirs. When she returns home for the long haul, she hopes to rebuild those familial relationships that matter the most, particularly with her older sister & singer Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku, Luther). She is bright, tough, kind, and headstrong in her beliefs, but also selfish, has deep-rooted fears of abandonment, and does not easily love. On a whim, she joins Tic and George for their journey, expanding her mind unlike ever before. While this story doesn’t begin with her, she is woven in seamlessly, fighting for her own freedom and justice from the systems that have held her down throughout her life, and still do.

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Image via HBO

Highlighting Black love, parenthood, greed, wealth, monsters, magic, myths, and prophecy, the root of the show tackles racism and how from generation to generation, every foundation and brick is built upon this house of oppression and misogyny. When the quest aligns the Freeman family with Samuel Braithwhite (Tony Goldwyn, Scandal) and his cunning daughter, Christina (Abbey Lee, The Dark Tower), all hell breaks loose. Christina shakes things up but fails at trying to dissuade the audience from believing that she is the biggest threat, but maybe that is the point. While it instantly became clear to me that the biggest person to fear in Lovecraft Country is a white woman scorned and groomed to accept less as more, another shift may occur in the final five episodes that throw this on its head. While Christina is focused on sending warnings of other looming threats, she also uses every other character as a pawn in her game of chess, with her ultimate goal still yet to be revealed. I hope that Christina’s arc unfolds in a way that is succinct but does not shift the focus towards white redemption & sympathy, and thus consequently overshadowing the Freeman family’s journey.

There are of course a multitude of other characters with their own hidden agendas or stories that fold into Tic’s world, from his aunt Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis, When They See Us) a star-gazer with a heart for escapades, to his younger cousin Diana (D) (Jada Harris, The Resident) who is a talented artist and may be prophetic. There’s also William (Jordan Patrick Smith, Vikings), Christina’s only friend and henchmen, who takes care of anything she needs and anyone who gets in the way of what she wants.

Not every episode is perfect — there are some pacing issues and oftentimes you have to wait until the episode’s end to find out what puzzle piece it provides — but there are so many rich layers to Lovecraft Country. Green’s smoldering vision gives way to powerful multi-layered and dimensional performances, and she does not shy away from uncomfortable topics, leading a show in an authentic fashion that also allows a safe space for this ensemble of actors to bring the weird, petrifying, loving, cruel, unusual, and painful stories of Lovecraft Country to life in uniquely distinct and subtle ways. From the use of gospel music to exude a Black woman taking back her power from the racists who attempted to steal it, to tackling peace and ancestral freedoms, to alternate realities that provide otherworldly opportunities to the oppressed, Lovecraft Country is must-see television — television that digs deeper to ask tough questions but still knows that biggest threat we will always have to combat is racism and our fight for equity.

Grade: A-

Lovecraft Country premieres Sunday, August 16 on HBO at 9/8c.

Television