Locke & Key Review: An Unsatisfying Adaptation
You sit down on the couch that you bought over a decade ago, the permanent indentation in the cushion a perfect match for your backside. The remote is on the armrest, waiting for you to decide what you'll watch this evening. You finished Witcher and season 2 of Altered Carbon already, but perhaps Netflix has something else in store.
You grab the remote, turn your T.V. on, and power-up the Netflix app to discover you were right. There's a new Netflix Original series called Locke & Key and you are either one of two people:
A.) Although you've never heard of Locke & Key before, you're intrigued because Netflix has rarely ever failed you in their recommendations. Though the cover photo is creepy, there's something magical about it as well, and you find yourself eager to twist the head key and find out what lay inside.
B.) You read the comics years before, and never in your wildest dreams did you expect someone to adapt that wonderful, horrific, Lovecraftian graphic novel into a television series.
Welcome, readers, to the world of Keyhouse, both a child's happiest playground and their most terrifying nightmare. I'll be your groundskeeper tonight, as we critique the pitfalls and celebrate the triumphs of Netflix's adaptation of Joe Hill's Locke & Key.
First, let's talk about what Netflix's Locke & Key did right.
Kid Casts Are All the Rage Right Now
Fantasy and horror fans alike have become quite enamored with all-kid or primarily-kid casts. With successes like Harry Potter, Stranger Things, Stephen King's IT, The Explorers, Super 8, A Series of Unfortunate Events—and the list goes on—all-kid casts have earned a special place in our hearts.
Despite the fact that in Locke & Key the Locke children are much older than the kids in all of the aforementioned classics, the show still manages to hit a lot of the same tropes that viewers know and love.
First and foremost is the trope: the outcasts.
Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode have just been uprooted from their home, left all of their friends behind, and are trying to start over again in a small town where everyone already knows their dirty laundry. Although Tyler makes quick friends, we soon discover that he's mostly just trying to fit in and that he doesn't really belong with them. His sister Kinsey, on the other hand, is slower to make friends, but when she does, the company she keeps forms its own ragtag club of "nerds" and misfits who could've been the leads of their own spin-off series called The Savini Squad.
Secondly—and I mentioned this in the last paragraph too—is the common trope: trauma and loss.
Harry Potter was a young boy who'd lost his parents early in life and had been forced to live under the stair of his aunt and uncle's home. In Stephen King's It, Bill Denbrough's younger brother went missing/was murdered in their neighborhood. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire experience death as well when a mysterious house fire results in their parents' untimely deaths.
The Locke children, too, suffer from grief. When their story begins, we learn that their father was murdered and that all three of them present when it happened, but impacted by it in their own ways. It is this loss that drives a wedge between them and their peers, but also what brings them together.
A Mansion of Magical Keys: Every Child's Greatest Dream
Now, although the show fell flat in more ways than one (and I'll get to those), I don't think anyone could argue about how exciting, dark, and mysterious the world of Keyhouse is! Granted, this isn't a credit to the show in and of itself as the world is almost an exact replica of the world Joe Hill created in his graphic novels, however, I do think they put every effort forth in making sure they did it justice when taking it to the big screen.
Almost instantly, we're introduced to the ominous "spirit" in the well-house, who also consequently shares what she knows about the keys hidden throughout the grounds.
Bode's first glimpse of the power of Keyhouse is the Anywhere Key, a key able to take him any place in the world, as long as he knows what the door there looks like.
The next is the Mirror Key. Much less enchanting than the Anywhere Key, the Mirror Key seems to beckon people into a mirror realm where most of them are lost for eternity.
Every key the Locke siblings find adds to the possibilities of what they can accomplish.
A personal favorite of mine is the Head Key.
With the Head Key, the Locke's are able to open their own minds or the minds of others to find information, add information, or take information away.
One of the major differences between the graphic novels and the Netflix series was how this key's powers were depicted. In the comics, the key literally opened the skull (see image below). I'll admit, the Head Key was one of my favorite keys for this very reason. I had never seen anything like it before, and it made for very vivid, detailed, and telling artwork. Just that one panel told readers everything they needed to know about Bode and the world he lived in.
However, in the show, this wasn't how the Head Key worked. Instead, when the Head Key was inserted into the back of the neck, the person would become comatose, while a second version of them popped out of thin air, along with a door that lead into their mind.
I'll admit, I was slightly saddened to see this key. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it would've been impossible to do it any other way. Comics are an art form for a reason: some stories can only be told through them, and in this case, the Head Key was not something that could be replicated exactly the same in film.
Another minor change for the Head Key (sorry I'm stuck on this, but like I said, this key is my favorite) had to do with what Kinsey decided to do with it.
In both the comics and the show, Kinsey uses it to take away her Fear. However, in the comics, she also removes her Tears at the same time, thus no longer being able to feal fear or sadness. Although in the comics, I thought this was a really inventive way to take the ideal of denial to an entirely new level, I think it worked out well in the show that they only had her remove her Fear. Fear became a physical antagonist for her to defeat. It also brought some of the group together in the end for the final showdown. If Kinsey had also taken out her Tears in the show, I'm afraid it would've made her more unlikable and much less sympathetic.
The Show with an Identity Crisis
By now you're probably thinking, "Wow! So far it sounds great! Thanks so much for convincing me to watch Locke & Key. I think it's going to be my next favorite T.V. show." And to those people, I say: "Let me grab my Timeshift Key so we can pause here and I can tell you why this show is likely not going to become your next favorite series."
One of the things I struggled with the most when I first started watching Locke & Key was that it didn't seem as dark as the comics.
There were moments when I'd forget I was watching a Netflix show and I'd start to wonder if the Disney Channel created it instead. Everything just seemed a little more light-hearted. The Locke's weren't nearly as devastated as they were in the books, Dodge wasn't nearly as intimidating, and Sam wasn't nearly as terrifying.
After the first episode though, I decided to cut the show some slack. At a foundational level, Locke & Key is about a family overcoming grief and so I realized it made sense that Netflix had turned it into a Family show. I could accept that. I could live with that. Especially since it meant getting to see one of my favorite graphic novels on screen.
However, then came the Sam-Backstory-Episode where Sam picks up a dissected frog and starts squeezing its innards out, dancing it around the classroom while his classmates are roaring with laughter.
I don't think I've ever been more repulsed by a scene in my entire life, and I LIVE off horror movies and television shows. So why was this small display of gore an issue? And why was the random Dodge-Kills-A-Man-She-Was-About-To-Have-Sex-With unfit for this series?
Because by the time either of these overly gory and graphic episodes aired, the show had already safely set itself up to be a Family series.
Netflix seemed to struggle with who they wanted their audience to be: mature comics lovers, angsty teenagers, or families looking for an adventure. So instead of something consistent and well-crafted, what we got was a family fantasy that sometimes had strong horror elements and other times had way too much teen drama.
The Worst of the Best
I contemplated leaving this out as it really only pertains to those of us who actually read the comics, but ultimately I decided to include it because these things really freaking bothered me!
Some of the best scenes in the graphic novels were some of the worst and least satisfying in the series.
Like I mentioned earlier, I really loved how the Head Key played out in the comics. Readers literally got to see into the characters' minds and there's nothing cooler than that! And even though I understand that the same thing couldn't have been done on the big screen, what they did instead was a major disappointment. We barely gained anything from stepping through Bode's of Kinsey's doors, except fond memories of their father.
Where are the dark secrets? Where was Bode's caveman version of his brother, or the scary stick-figure drawing of Sam The Murderer?
The Head Key was a great tool to deepen our understanding of the Locke siblings, and sadly in the show it was underused.
Another scene that felt completely lackluster was the night that Dodge wore the shadow crown and faced-off with the Locke's in their home.
I can't even begin to describe how utterly EPIC the shadow creatures were in the graphic novels...
In the comics, the shadows weren't just lame 2-dimensional slabs of black, hardly any more intimidating than an aggravated cat. In the comics, they were—dare I say it again: EPIC.
The shadow crown brought every shadow to life in a very real—very formidable—way. At least, it did in the comics.
In the Netflix show, however, it was like they barely tried. My guess is they didn't have the budget for trying to replicate anything similar. I mean, the entire scene only lasted a few short minutes. That's not to say I wanted a long and drawn-out, pitch-black battle like we were given in Game of Thrones, but I do wish they had found a way to make it cooler. It was like they didn't even care, like they were just going through the motions, using one key as a plot device to get to the next, and I guess when it comes down to it that was what bothered me the most.
This show just didn't feel like it was carefully crafted to uphold and honor the perfection of the comics. It felt rushed, like Netflix just wanted to use it to make a buck.
The Locke & Key graphic novels were so tragically and magically beautiful because Hill and Rodriguez did take their time with the characters and their stories. Although the series is largely about the mysterious keys that the kids keep finding and the evil demon/spirit/whatever that the Locke children realize they need to vanquish, at the heart of it all, the story is about the characters.
It's about Tyler, Kinsey, Bode, and even their mother Nina overcoming grief. It's about the four of them readjusting as a family unit, and the aches and pains of everything they go through during the in-between.
In the comics, readers have pages upon pages to get to know Tyler, Kinsey, Bode, and Nina. We see their darkest moments that no one else sees and, regardless of their many poor choices throughout the series, we understand why they made them. I can't say the same for the T.V. show. The show was too short, too rushed, and often made the characters seem obnoxious, ridiculous, and aggravating.
All of that said, I can't help but wonder how new viewers would feel about the show. If you're someone who hadn't read the comics, it's possible the series might be enjoyable for you, especially if you're into hodgepodge family/teen dramas with horror and fantasy elements.
There you have it, my painful review of a television adaptation of one of my most favorite comics of all times: Locke & Key.
Let me know what you think in the comments below! Am I being too hard on Netflix's creation? What did you think the creators did well and what would you have liked to have changed? Also, what do you hope to see in season two?
Until next time,
Fantasy Author & Blogger of Nerdy Things
Find her books on Amazon!
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