The Wizeguy: Keys Open Doors

Everyone knows the old “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again” proverb. People have been trying to get a Locke & Key tv/movie project out the door for a few years now. Fox made a pilot, then Universal had the rights and then Hulu passed. The 10 episode supernatural drama – Developed by Carlton Cuse, Aron Eli Coleite and Meredith Averill – premiers this week on Netflix.

I am cautiously optimistic about this series. I loved the Locke & Key comic. I went through a big stack of hardcovers from my local library’s collection. Enjoyed every element of it, art, story, characters, use of the medium, etc. I also remember thinking after, “This is awesome, and entirely unfilmable.”

The fantastic nature of the books feels so hard to adapt to the screen, not to mention the deep lore explored in the supplementary materials. I’m not saying that it’s all sunshine and lollipops, or that it is shallow. The comics balance a fantasy-horror feel and I think it could be a tricky maneuver making it all work (some spoilers for the Locke & Key comic ahead).

After the violent death of Rendell Locke, his traumatized family – widowed Nina, teen-aged Tyler and Kinsey, 9-year-old Bode – drive cross-country to Keyhouse, the legacy home of Rendell’s family. The families dealing with grief and the continuous tragedies that befall them is very much a horror element. The literal demon being in the form of a friend that they trust is if anything even more menacing than your normal run of the mill demon. Psychological horror is a pervasive horror element, and Joe Hill (Half of Locke & Key‘s creators) learned from some of the best (namely his parents). I mean look at the Shining, one of the most frightening horror aspects in that tale was that of Jack Torrance. Guy wasn’t a ghost or a demon or a clown, but he was an alcoholic who eventually lost his grip on reality. That’s something that both Hill and King do well, which in the midst of supernatural evil make those human elements just as chilling.

In a horror story, tension permeates the text, and you have no real promises about how this will pan out (either the protagonists will die, horribly, or some of them may survive, but will be broken by the experience). In an action story, there are moments of tension, but there is an understanding that this will be alleviated, and that there is a kind of understanding of how the stakes will wash out, even if things go badly, there will be, all told, a more-or-less “happy” kind of ending (even for sad endings, they will feel like a real closure). Locke & Key, to me, communicates the latter, for most of the text. Again, darkness, struggle, trauma, etc., are in things like YA books, but they are not horror, and I find most of Locke & Key to be more analogous to them than to something like terror in the everyday.

I’m all about the feel of a classic Amblin Entertainment adventure. When IP’s are respectful of the source material, while not being afraid to make changes so it can live as a series or film, on its own, we all win. And I do love the child-like aspects of the comic, don’t get me wrong and I’d love to see how they render that Calvin and Hobbes homage. 


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