Lacks bite but still fun.
70%Overall Score

THE UPSHOT
Even though it’s not up to the lofty standards of horror-fantasy set by the award-winning comic series, Locke & Key is a fun show that’s easily digestible for both fans and newcomers.

Creators: Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez (comic), Meredith Averill, Aron Eli Coleite, Carlton Cuse (series)
Cast: Darby Stanchfield, Connor Jessup, Emilia Jones
Seasons: 1 (2020)
Streaming on: Netflix

Another super dysfunctional Netflix family

Netflix seems to have a fondness for adapting material centered around dysfunctional families who return to their childhood homes following the death of a parent. Sometimes these families are superheroes (The Umbrella Academy) and sometimes they’re tormented by ghosts (The Haunting of Hill House). The latest offering in this Netflix family trauma genre is Locke and Key. It follows the Locke family as they move into their spooky ancestral home following the death of their father Rendell (Bill Heck). The kids, goodnatured jock Tyler (Connor Jessup), angsty and rebellious Kinsey (Emilia Jones) and precocious Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) discover a collection of magic keys that give the users powers to open doors that bend reality. Add to this a demon trapped in the house who wants the keys and you get a chain of cataclysmic events and supernatural battles.

The show is a PG-13 version of the comic

The show is based on the comics by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King) and and Gabriel Rodriguez. The original source material is a decidedly dark and twisted horror series; it’s definitely not material that would be considered family-friendly. However, the makers of the show have dulled the edges for this adaptation. Instead of a drama about a family reeling from the trauma of a brutal home invasion that resulted in the death of a parent paired with a gory supernatural horror story, Netflix’s version plays out more like a young adult fiction series with horror-fantasy elements. It has some creepy scenes, but there’s nothing in the show that would keep you awake at night.

For example, in the comic it’s implied that Nina (Darby Stanchfield), the mother of the Locke kids, was raped when their home in Seattle was invaded. A recovering alcoholic, she relapses  when the family moved to escape memories of that experience. It isn’t until almost the end of the books that she rises above her trauma and learns to be a protective mother to children facing danger from supernatural forces. But while she’s in the throes of alcoholism, Nina is difficult to manage and must be cared for by her kids. However in the show, her relapse mostly just makes her say cringeworthy things, embarrassing her children. This sort of treatment of the characters and subject matter comes as a surprise considering the show was developed by Carlton Cuse and Meredith Averill, who are known for their work on Lost and The Haunting of Hill House respectively. It’s hard to believe that they pulled so many punches with Locke and Key.

It’s still a fun show

The Little Mermaid is Disney’s adaptation of a seriously dark short story written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Even though Disney’s version lacks the darker elements of Andersen’s story, it’s a lovable movie. The series version of Locke and Key can be seen in similar terms. It doesn’t fill viewers with fear as it leans too hard on the whimsical fantasy element of it all and it lacks the edge of the comic. Yet watching the Locke family overcome grief and learn about the magic of the keys is compelling. It checks the boxes when it comes to visuals and depiction of the relationships within the Locke family. Scott’s performance as Bode is particularly endearing.