A magical blend of Narnia and Stranger Things, Locke & Key follows three siblings who, after moving into their ancestral estate, begin to uncover mysterious magical keys and a mysterious figure who wants to use their powers for evil.
Adapted from the comic book written by Joe Hill, the series takes a lighter approach to the original story, swapping out some of the gruesome horror for a more mystery-thriller tone with a fun touch of fantasy. I feel like this approach is good as it really lends itself to the story and to being an easily-consumable Netflix series. Could this be more steeped in horror and get into the graphic nature of the comic? Sure, but it feels like it would be an unnecessary addition and possibly make it a little too similar to other shows that are more straight horror. The fun, magical fantasy feel blends in well with the mystery thriller elements to create a thrilling and engaging story, while the little sprinkle of horror creates some added tension in key moments, especially within the first few episodes.
The keys are like characters on their own, the powers and abilities that they introduce allow the story to progress into new, exciting directions with each passing episode. As more keys are introduced, more characters come into the fold and the tension rises, the story actually gets more engaging with time. The pacing from episode to episode I’d say is stellar. There isn’t a chunk in the middle that slows down, it doesn’t get too rushed towards the end, rather, it is continuously engaging all the way through and builds in tension with each passing episode. As the mystery unravels and new details are revealed, it gives you the sense they you’re piecing things together along with the characters and makes you feel like one of the kids on this magical journey.
The way character growth and certain relationships are explored in the film is done in a rather creative way, incorporating the powers of the keys to create scenarios that build character, encourage growth and challenge character mindsets. It really helps to tie everything together and make it all seem like a tight, uniform story. For instance, when one thing happens, the ripples of that are felt in the plot, in how characters interact and also in how characters behave. It ties together furthering the story and characters with the introduction of each new plot device. The writers do a great job at getting you on the side of the main characters and the good people around them. You’re able to instantly recognise who’s good, who’s questionable and decide who you’re rooting for within the first episode. It gets the ball rolling and doesn’t stop right through to the end.
I will say, if I have one minor gripe with the series, or two, it’s the way the ending is handled. The way the story closes out, the reveals, twists and what-not are all great, I loved the story decisions all the way through to the end, however, I didn’t love the execution. I like it when shows weave in reveals and next-season teases into the events of the climax as oppose to presenting them as an epilogue, which is the approach taken here. It’s a fairly common one, I’ve seen it done many times before, I just feel like it’s a jarring way to end a season. The content might be great, like in this case, but the method of delivering that content I’ve never been a fan of. The other minor gripe is that there are a couple of dumb character decisions that I feel like are written in for plot convenience. Like, the writers needed to get from A to B, but rather than conjuring up a smart way to do so, they make one of the characters do something dumb. It’s a small thing I can look past but a gripe nonetheless.
The performances are pretty strong across the board, from the young actors to the adults, and for the most part everyone feels part of the show and part of this story. Connor Jessup (Tyler), Emilia Jones (Kinsey) and Jackson Robert Scott (Bode) are all fantastic as the titular Locke children. They play off each other really well and sell the fact that they’re siblings with immense chemistry across every scene. No matter who the story is following, whether it’s one, a pair, or all three of the kids, you’re constantly engaged due to the emotional strength of their performances. The young Jackson Robert Scott has a couple of lines he maybe doesn’t hit as well as they could have been, but he’s young and has a long way to go, so no complaints here. The family dynamic is extended to Darby Stanchfield’s performance as Nina who also has a lot to do despite not being on the same journey as her kids.
The villainous Echo is played by Laysla De Oliveira and done so in a way that makes her come across as evil and mischievous but also quite charming and oddly likeable. There’s some great duality to how she plays the role to where you believe that she is evil and that the characters can plausibly get sucked in by her. For instance, if Christoph Waltz was walking around as the villain, anyone trusting him would be not the smartest one in the room. Outside of that main cast, the supporting cast of the Locke family’s friends are all very strong, maybe except for one character (who has a villainous role) that I didn’t resonate with much at all. They were more annoying than evil and mischievous, but they don’t play a major role, so that’s fine.
In the end, Locke and Key is a very strong, entertaining and suspenseful fantasy thriller that incorporates a slight touch of humour and horror to maintain a balanced tone throughout. The performances are great and the story keeps you engaged right through to the end with the regular introduction of new keys and mechanics at play. Lastly, the score is one that will be stuck in your head the whole time. It perfectly captures the eerie blend of magic, fantasy and horror through sound, enhancing every sequence. This is a series I loved and many will enjoy as it only suffers from a few minor execution issues here and there.