Netflix original programming is all the rage these days. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that the success of one Netflix property will bring about similar successors. Cultural hits like The Umbrella Academy and The Haunting of Hill House paved the way for Netflix to introduce Locke & Key. This new pseudo-horror adaptation comes from a well received and semi-popular comic book series created by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. Hill, the son of author Stephen King, has gone on to write other horror stories. Gabriel Rodriguez is best known for Locke and Key but has worked for years on other comic book series. Stephen King is at his best when he takes relatable, “Small Town America” characters and places them in dark and supernatural situations. Hill’s Locke & Key follows suit and you can see King’s influence in this story.
In Locke & Key we are introduced to Nina Locke (Darby Stanchfield) and her three kids, Tyler (Connor Jessup), Kinsey (Emilia Jones), and Bode (Jackson Robert Scott), as they relocate to the unoccupied Locke family estate, named Keyhouse. The Locke family became victims of tragedy when father and husband Rendell (Bill Heck) was murdered in their Seattle home one night. As the family settles in, young Bode discovers a mysterious voice (Laysla De Oliveira) that sits at the bottom of a well. The voice enlightens Bode of the house’s secret, hidden magical keys of various abilities. Adults seem to be immune to the magic of the keys, leaving the children to discover the secrets behind the dark and mysterious Keyhouse.
The original Locke & Key comic book run is dark, bloody, and geared more toward adults. This new Netflix adaptation scrubs away the blood and lightens the tone. This version of Locke & Key is reminiscent of teenage driven shows like Hulu’s The Runaways or Netflix’s own The Umbrella Academy. The show loses its emphasis and mystery and horror and replaces it with teen drama. Each magical key impacts the Locke children, specifically Tyler and Kinsey, in profound ways. The show explores how they use the keys to get back at bullies and land dates but it only takes a superficial look at how the keys affect their personality and emotions. Framing Locke & Key around teenagers and drama isn’t wrong but it is a departure from the core audience of the source material. This isn’t the first time that Netflix created a show where a supernatural house has an affect on lives of a trauma ridden family. Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House has a similar concept, but these two shows cater to very different audiences. Locke & Key is easily recommendable to fans of other Netflix shows like The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and The Umbrella Academy.
The Keyhouse is a mystery box in the highest order. A family estate with mysterious keys that unlock numerous doors and abilities is a story teller’s dream to come up with a device of limitless potential. Mystery however, does not seem to be high on the Locke & Key priority list. The Locke children uncover keys early and often throughout the series, a stark contrast to the pace of the comic book. Characters in the show use the keys with reckless abandon and wisdom is seldom exercised throughout the series. Locke & Key never makes the audience think or guess. It’s like handing out a test with the answers in the margins.
The success of Netflix’s Locke & Key lies in the manifestation and use of the magical keys at their disposal. There are several keys introduced throughout the show, each with a unique ability. For example, the “Head Key” unlocks access to one’s own mind; which allows the user to add, subtract, or explore at will. The story introduces so many keys so quickly and as a result the plot feels overstuffed. All the Locke children have discovered the keys by episode two end yet it takes them WEEKS (episode five) to have a discussion about them! By season’s end, there are several keys left to explore; leaving plenty to do in a future season.
Early episodes focus largely on young Bode (pronounced Bodie). Bode is played by actor Jackson Robert Scott, most famous for his portrayal as George from the It films. There’s a sameness to Scott’s performance and it’s hard to blame an eleven–year–old for their acting performance. Much of the plot relies on Bode making decisions or dictating action and the show is weaker for it. It reminds us that there’s a reason filmmakers are reluctant to have young children in starring roles. The Locke teens, Tyler and Kinsey, spend more time concerned about their social lives than their actual lives. The antagonists are able to con and corner the Lockes at every turn. It’s a miracle that any characters survive at all.
The show also suffers from what I like to call the “real people problem”. In other words, the writers don’t understand how real people would react in certain situations. Stephen King, for all his faults, is so successful due to his ability to relate to the human condition and create characters that understand and work through emotions in the face of ridiculous and frightful circumstances. I often found myself frustrated at the Locke family for being dumb; even in the context of a horror story.
This adaptation of Locke & Key is not what many fans of the series would expect, but it’s hard to blame Netflix for steering into what they believe will get them views. Tone aside, Locke & Key is an inconsistency paced but well produced supernatural teen drama. The real treasure of the show is neither the magic of the keys nor the mystery box of the keyhouse, but the teen drama and friendships the Locke family made along the way.
Edited By Lauren Hailey