Lovecraft Country TV Review: Forget the Monsters, Racism Is the True Horror

Based on the novel of the same name by Matt Ruff, the ten-episode series follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he journeys with his childhood friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) and his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) on a road trip from Chicago across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams). Their search-and-rescue turns into a struggle to survive and overcome both the racist terrors of white America and monstrous creatures that could be ripped from an H.P. Lovecraft paperback.

The best way to get a sense of what you can expect from Lovecraft Country is to look no further than the brains behind the operation. Misha Green is the showrunner, writer, executive producer and director. If you’re familiar with her previous project, Underground, then you already know that she’s well positioned to tell a gripping tale, especially one with racial tones. What you can also take note of is that Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams are also executive producers for this series. The social/horror element is something you’ll probably pick up on and that will get you thinking right back to Peele’s movies, Get Out and Us. The monsters in this story will have an essense of JJ Abrams’ Cloverfield.

Lovecraft Country Trailer:

The Good:

Right off the bat, the series lets you know that we’re still in the Jim Crow era and what I appreciated the most was that the show provides the perspective of Black Americans during that time. While some may imagine America through the lens of Leave It to Beaver in regards to the 1950s, Lovecraft Country depicts the sheer terror of what it’s like to be a Black American during that time.

The first episode does a pretty good job of setting things up and worldbuilding. There are some thrilling moments that are chock full of suspense, and that’s before the crazy stuff even begins to happen. Towards the end of the episode, Lovecraft Country finally flips the switch and starts to go into full on horror mode. I think it’s safe to say that the series goes from 0 to 10000 starting with the second episode though. By far, episode 2 is easily the weirdest and wildest episode I’ve seen in a TV series thus far. So much so that it was a bit confusing at times to figure just what exactly was going on. Things got so trippy that you’ll think you’re on drugs as you watch.

One thing that is undeniable about Lovecraft Country is the sheer amount of talent from the amazing cast. Jonathan Majors is showing off his acting chops as expected from his previous roles in “Last Black Man in San Francisco” and “Da 5 Bloods”. He’s a solid lead for this series and really captures the essence of his character “Atticus”. Alongside him is co-star Jurnee Smollett who also delivers a plethora of standout moments in the series. She’s doing a bit of everything from drama to action to bit of comedy with her character “Leticia”. I also appreciated Courtney B. Vance’s performance as Uncle George, although I think he could’ve been used a bit more in the series. I think one other notable performance is certainly Michael K. Williams. His character, Montrose Freeman, is probably one of the most complex of the bunch, and he has a number of his own mysteries that the show has yet to reveal. I’m not sure where his particular journey leads, but I will say it’s definitely a special one in many regards.

The series does a number of great things that viewers can appreciate. For one, it doesn’t get overly preachy, but it does manage to drop little nuggets of relevant historical information through its characters. Here or there, you may hear a reference to the history of the White House or a callback to just how recently the Tulsa Race Massacre was relative to their time setting. However, Lovecraft Country goes even deeper than that by brilliantly utilizing the horror/fantasy aspect to explore some racial themes on a deeper level.

Without giving anything away, Lovecraft Country found a fantastic way to demonstrate the vastly different experiences and worldviews when it comes to race. Episode 5 was probably one of my favorites because the social experiment that takes place is one that will definitely leave you with your jaw dropped. Which by the way, is par for the course of Lovecraft Country as there is routinely a number of “WTF moments” throughout the show.

 

The Bad:

I think another draw for the series is the overall mystery that we get to explore. Every episode will leave you wondering and the small reveals in the next episode will then have you thinking back about the previous ones. The downside here however is that the story can be a bit convoluted at times, and the pacing of the show is a bit questionable. I had moments where I had to backtrack and rewatch some things just to try and make sense of certain plot points. I’m hopeful that the final episodes may bring more clarity on some things, but I could understand how some people get lost with all the names and magical things being thrown around so loosely.

The Verdict:

When I first saw the trailer for Lovecraft Country, I was immediately convinced that this show wasn’t going to be anything short but unique and intriguing. I wasn’t wrong with that presumption. The show is based on the H.P. Lovecraft book, which I unfortunately have not read and I was completely ignorant to its existence. At the very least, that gave me a fresh pair of eyes to engage with these characters and this mysterious world in Lovecraft Country.

I will admit, that in the light of the most recent racial events in society today after the killing of George Floyd, engaging with a series that puts racism at the forefront was a bit daunting. As film critic, I oftentimes place myself in the movie with the characters to help relate with the situations going on. Well, as a black man, I can easily tell you that I would never wish to time travel back to the 1950s in America, and Lovecraft Country solidified that sentiment with its settings and such.

I’m ever hopeful that Lovecraft Country continues to deliver a satisfying ending to the series when the final episodes are made available. So keep in mind that the thoughts shared here are only up to the midway point of the series. If it does continue down the path its already creating, then I think this show is certainly one that’ll have people talking on a weekly basis. If any of my thoughts change by the show’s conclusion, I’ll return to this article to update my this review. Be sure to give Lovecraft Country a watch on HBO as soon as it premieres.

Director: Misha Green, Jordan Peele
Stars: Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollet, Courtney B. Vance, Michael Kenneth Williams, Aunjanue Ellis, Wunmi Mosaku, Abbey Lee

Lovecraft Country is currently on HBO on August 16, 2020.  Be sure to follow E-Man’s Movie Reviews on Facebook, Subscribe on YouTube, or follow me on Twitter/IG @EmansReviews for even more movie news and reviews!

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About Emmanuel "E-Man" Noisette

Emmanuel is a Chicago film critic who founded Eman's Movie Reviews. He freelances as a writer and video content creator for sites such as MovieTickets.com. Be sure to join the other 33K+ fans on his Facebook Fan Page for even more movie opinions and fun. Feel free to contact him with any professional inquiries: [email protected]

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