Ever wished that when you opened your front door there was a completely different place inside? The Locke family might be able to help you. Based on the comic book series written by Joe Hill (Horns, NOS4A2), Locke and Key follows the Locke family as they relocate after tragedy, but stumble on a heritage of magical keys and demonic threats.
Teenagers Lucas and Kinsey, together with younger brother Bode, are moved from Seattle to the historical Locke family home in Matheson, Massachusetts by mother Nina following the murder of their father, Rendell. It isn’t long before Bode starts to hear whispering all around the house and tracks down the sounds to strange keys. Some open a mirror realm. Some allow you to enter into someone’s psyche. Another can take you through to any door anywhere that you’ve previously already seen. Early on it’s clear that much of the joy of watching Locke and Key comes from the excitement of seeing what weird and wonderful magic power will be discovered next.
However, as episode 1 establishes, other forces are at play. The echo that Bode has been talking to down a well manifests as a woman who tricks him into giving her the anywhere key. She escapes, but can re-appear at any time through any door thanks to the key. This plot point should create incessant threat but instead immediately causes a problem with pacing. ‘Well Lady’ could turn up at any time yet our cast of characters carry on as normal. Many of the middle episodes flesh out extra plot and detail by proxy but lack any sense of urgency as the antagonist wallops about generally killing time until they need to pop up again to remind us that we should be scared.
Just as the prospect for a good horror is established (old Gothic house, magical powers, unstoppable demon) the tone shifts to teenage high school drama. Locke and Key can’t work out if it is a horror show, a magical fantasy show, or a character exploration show, and instead kind of picks up and plays with each element with pace breaking randomness. However, thanks to strong performances from the core cast and respectful direction, the characterisation is generally well done.
Both Kinsey and Lucas are dealing with the traumatic death of their father with varying degrees of depression and pragmatism. Mother Nina is trying to rebuild their lives away from the scene of the crime. However, she also struggles with her own loss, historic alcohol abuse problems, and discovering that there may have been a reason that her husband never talked about his past. Such emotional moments are dealt with respectfully and powerfully. Played with engaging maturity by Emilia Jones, Kinsey’s guilt at being frozen with fear when her father was killed informs all her actions: positive, negative, and self-destructive.
Sadly, Locke and Key suffers from an inconsistent tone and from stupid actions of head-slapping proportions. No spoilers, but perhaps this reviewer would suggest that if a way to prevent demonic entities from taking your powerful magical keys is discovered, you should use that rather than dig up the very key it has been searching for and go waltzing off with it in a character’s pocket, hmm?
More than once the internal logic is broken and these moments take you out of the show as you yell, “Well, don’t do that!” at the screen. When this is combined with more and more scenes that cover typical high school love life issues instead of magical keys that can turn you into a literal ghost and back, it’s hard to care too much about a love triangle.
Even if there are frustrations, Locke and Key carries momentum by creating some compelling mystery that is fun to watch unravel. Why can’t Uncle Duncan remember anything of his childhood with their father? PLus there's a gorgeous aesthetic which always makes the most of the powers of the keys. Whilst your own key into the show may jam at irritating moments, it is worth forcing it around until it clicks.
Words by Michael Record