A Darkly Magical Tale of Family: A Review of ‘Locke & Key’

  • When I was first getting into comics back in the mid 2010’s, I exclusively dealt with completed graphic novel series. I wanted to have the entire story all at once, available so I could devour it without any interruption. One of the very first series I read was none other than Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez’s Locke & Key, a dark fantasy series centered on the Locke children as they discover and navigate a complicated inheritance. To this day, it remains one of my favorite comics. After consuming the first season, I am happy to say that the TV adaptation of Locke & Key is not the exact same story I remember reading years ago, but it is of a similarly brilliant caliber and has been adapted beautifully for today’s audiences.


    Welcome to Keyhouse

    The general narrative beats of the original comic are still intact: after their father is murdered, the Locke family relocates back to their father’s ancestral home of Keyhouse. In the midst of the usual familial struggles of being uprooted from their lives, the Locke kids have to deal with two struggles. They have a certain level of infamy since the entire town knows their history and there are some magical shenanigans in the form of mysterious keys laid about the house.

    From the start of the series, it’s easy to commend the cinematography. Shots are cleverly framed with vibrant colors that resemble actual comic panels. To their credit, there are several moments that are direct homages to Rodríguez’s original art. The sweeping views of the different set pieces are enticing and the visual storytelling remains consistently gorgeous, both when it comes to the plain elements of the Matheson, Massachusetts area and to the fantastical elements that get introduced later. Couple that with a masterful musical score, and the entire world is evocative of the original series which provides the perfect foundation for the rest of the cast.


    The introduction of the Locke clan during their exodus is masterfully done. In the backseat, we see Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) as endless energetic and constantly inquisitive whereas his older sister Kinsey (Emilia Jones) is completely disinterested in his antics, sarcastically dodging his questions. In the front, Nina Locke (Darby Stanchfield) tries to keep the peace the best she can while her oldest son Tyler (Connor Jessup) is silent and aloof. Their initial interactions set a pitch perfect depiction of the family and showcases their chemistry, creating a believable canvas for the rest of the story to take shape.

    A Series of Interlocking Threads

    Locke & Key handles its various story threads masterfully. Each member of the Locke clan is given a chance to take center stage. We’re able to follow them as they come to terms with both their grief and trauma and the magical nature of Keyhouse. Nina gets the least focus, but we see her form a friendship with Ellie Whedon (Sherri Saum) and learn more about her husband’s past from her brother-in-law, Duncan (Aaron Ashmore), who can’t remember bits and pieces from his childhood. Bode, being the youngest, is mostly involved with the magical keys, dealing with the enigmatic Dodge (Laysla de Oliveria), and befriending the groundskeeper Rufus Whedon (Coby Bird). Kinsey spends most of her effort trying to isolate herself from everyone, although still manages to make a friend in Scot (Petrice Jones) where Tyler tries to leverage his good looks and jock status to try and find social standing. Both of them are very much haunted by the death of their father and slowly learn that they have a lot of responsibility they need to shoulder in the wake of everything.


    Each episode provides poignant insight, clever writing, and smooth exposition. It’s a heartfelt story that serves as the emotional anchor for the magical elements in the from of various keys. Therein lies the genius of the original story and the TV adaptation: this is a story about a family coming together after a horrible incident and the different Keys drive the family to learn more about their history and themselves.

    An Adaptation for the History Books

    I can’t recommend Locke & Key enough. It is very early in the year, but it very much a contender for one of the strongest new premieres. It is a rare example of when an adaptation not only manages to distill the best qualities of the source material, but able to seamlessly add onto it and enrich the narrative. Whether you’re a long time fan of Hill and Rodríguez’s classic series or just a fan of dark fantasy, you owe it to yourself to watch this show.


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    • Mikkel Snyder is a technical writer by day and pop culture curator and critic all other times.

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