Lovecraft Country Episode 1 (Review)

Lovecraft Country blends family drama, sci-fi, horror, and civil rights in such a beautiful way and does what a pilot is supposed to do: get you excited for what’s to come.

We can all agree that living in this pandemic is scary on its own, so pair that with growing racial tensions and a volatile political environment and we’re in our own horror movie. Appropriately enough, director Jordan Peele, producer J.J. Abrams and writer Misha Green pair up to deliver us an adaptation of Matt Ruff’s 2016 dark fantasy-horror novel “Lovecraft Country,” which tells the story of Atticus Freeman and crew navigating Jim Crow era racism and supernatural horrors a la H.P. Lovecraft.

Lovecraft Country

The show opens up holding nothing back as far as teasing the high-quality special effects (I’m hoping to see more of this as the series develops), displaying a wild sci-fi scene that wakes our protagonist Atticus in the segregated portion of a bus headed to his hometown of Chicago. Atticus is a pulp novel fan and defends his interests by aptly saying “stories are like people. Loving them doesn’t make them perfect, you just try and cherish them, overlook their flaws.” 

As far as flaws go, there are few in this pilot, one being the slow burn in the first half of the show as it sets up the story and introduces its characters. Once you’re past the mandatory set up, it really picks up in the second half and delivers some promising elements and themes that I’m excited to explore as a viewer.

Atticus is a war veteran who returns home to Chicago in response to a mysterious letter from his missing father indicating his last known location. He teams up with his uncle George and childhood friend Letitia to seek his father’s last known location. 

There is a thin line between supernatural horror and the horrible reality of racism in America. Uncle George Freeman is a bookstore owner who writes a safe travel guide with his wife which basically states all the post-Jim Crow spaces that Black people can exist freely without being faced with heavy racism. Using one of these routes, Atticus joins in with Letitia and Uncle George seeking safe spaces and his estranged father. 

Lovecraft Country

Peele expertly sews in references to pioneers in the civil rights movement, most notably including the prolific words of James Baldwin derived from a 1965 debate with William F. Buckley:

“It would seem to me the proposition before the House, and I would put it that way, is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro, or the American Dream *is* at the expense of the American Negro. Is the question hideously loaded, and then one’s response to that question – one’s reaction to that question – has to depend on effect and, in effect, where you find yourself in the world, what your sense of reality is, what your system of reality is. That is, it depends on assumptions which we hold so deeply so as to be scarcely aware of them.”

Lovecraft Country

In the speech, Baldwin describes the different perspectives of a white person in America vs a Black person in America and how these worlds were molded for the benefit of one and taken advantage of the other. I’ll also applaud the reference that Uncle George makes to a not so well known poem by H.P. Lovecraft, revealing how deeply racist he was despite his success as a writer of supernatural horror, which only adds to the atmosphere of this very well-timed series.

Overall, this premiere blends family drama, sci-fi, horror, and civil rights in such a beautiful way and does what a pilot is supposed to do: get you excited for what’s to come. There are many hair raising moments where the characters are faced with racist headhunters and Lovecraftian monsters. To watch the racism experienced by these characters during those times is horrifying on its own and the juxtaposition of that racism against the shoggoth monsters poises the question: Which is truly scarier? The fictional demons we fear from fiction or the demon of racism presented in real life? 

To answer this question, Jordan Peele delivers us a socially charged yet bizarre, supernatural tale that scares and ignites deeper thinking without being too political or out of the realm of imagination. 

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