First look Netflix UK TV review: Locke & Key
Ivan Radford | On 08, Feb 2020
“She doesn’t remember because she’s an adult. That’s how this stuff always works,” declares Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) to his siblings, Tyler (Connor Jessup) and Kinsey (Emilia Jones), near the start of Locke & Key. It’s a knowing gag in a series that knows precisely what it is – even when “it” is seemingly derivative of every other hit series of recent years.
The Lockes are a family in recovery, moving back into the Massachusetts home of their late father. There, they find the kind of scares you might find in The Haunting of Hill House, navigate the dark but heartfelt coming-of-age drama of Riverdale and Sabrina’s Chilling Adventures, and do so with the pluck and courage of the kids from Stranger Things. But the premise of the show, which is based on the comic books by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, consistently opens up surprising novelty and novel surprises.
That premise is deceptively simple: inside Keyhouse, the family manor, are a bunch of hidden keys that hold special powers. One lets you open a door and travel through it to anywhere. One is like a portable blowtorch. Also within the estate is an evil demon – Dodge (Laysla De Oliveira, clearly having a huge amount of fun) – who will stop at nothing to get her hands on the keys. And so we watch as, Narnia-like, younger brother Bode falls under Dodge’s influence and is tricked into helping her, setting in motion a supernatural showdown and life-or-death treasure hunt, interspersed with high school dramas and dilemmas.
But where that might lead you to expect a family-friendly romp, or a predictable ride, Locke & Key does an impressive job in the first half of its first season of keeping you wrong-footed. Within an hour, we’ve seen someone trapped in a room of mirrors. Within two, we’ve seen Dodge strangle someone to death. And within three, we’ve watched as the characters use a key to open up their own heads and venture inside. Bode’s brain? That’s a hyperactive arcade. Kinsey’s? A galaxy-sized shopping mall.
No sooner than you can say “shut the front door”, the show has thrown up all kinds of ideas, from trying to literally take away your own fear to how to act scared on an amateur film about a lobster-like monster. There’s possible romance for Tyler, who’s learning he doesn’t need to be someone else to bond with a classmate, and a violent confrontation after a hockey match that put Kinsey in an awkward spot. But underlying all of that are some wonderfully complex things, most of it rooted in the trauma of the death of the children’s father – one delicately written sequence sees all three of them remember a story he told them slightly differently, which means they all need each other to piece together the whole memory.
There’s action and mystery galore too, from a Ghost Key that lets Bode leave his body and fly into hints of generations-old secrets, to the question of why Nina, their mother (Darby Stanchfield), doesn’t remember stuff that only happened hours ago. The cast have a charming chemistry and enough infectious curiosity to help ease you over any chunky dumps of exposition, and once the show finds its fast-paced groove, the potential for unexpected twists is irresistibly intriguing – and, just to remind you that you don’t know what’s around the bend, Dodge pops up every now and then to lob your expectations under a train. The series spent years in various stages of development hell, but Carlton Cuse, Meredith Averill, and Aron Eli Coleite’s adaptation arrives on Netflix with a tone that’s just edgy and adult enough to stand out from the pack and a surprising slick feel. Don’t expect the surprises to stop there.
Locke & Key is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.