I eagerly anticipated LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, HBO’s cosmic horror drama series. Loosely based on the novel by Matt Ruff, it takes us into the Lovecraft mythos through an African-American lens while examining big themes like America’s sad history of deep prejudice. Despite nailing many core elements, the show is so scattered and unfocused that despite the show’s earnest appeal to invest in the characters, I just couldn’t. There’s enough drama and spectacle to make it fun, but it often felt more like work than play.
The show has a fantastic premise, which is a family that practices magic has an African-American branch through bastardy, creating competition for a powerful birthright. Unfortunately, this premise doesn’t crystallize until we’re deep into the show, which kitchen-sinks Lovecraftian elements that are never really scary or do what cosmic horror is supposed to do, which is create a sense of wonder, mystery, and dread. (The girls who appear in a curse are a fantastic exception, they were amazing.) The result feels more like an anthology than a coherent story as long side trips are taken into explorations of prejudice against Blacks, women, homosexuals, and enemies in war, though the overarching narrative does eventually come together nicely at the end, with some brave story choices and satisfying sense of empowerment. The real horror in the show comes from, well, White people, who almost hunt Black people for sport, which can make the show feel exhausting at times but provocatively and ably also show White viewers what it’s like to live day to day as a target of mindless prejudice. There are frequent nonfiction recordings playing over visuals, pithy statements by great thinkers like James Baldwin, that give the show real gravitas early on but later clash as the show barrels ahead into full-on ’50s pulp.
Now to some of the story basics. The setting is fantastic, the horror effects are solid, and the acting is amazing, with the actors pouring every ounce of their hearts and being into their roles. These elements provide a solid bedrock for the series. Unfortunately, despite all that, character motivation and conflict change on a dime episode to episode, making it almost impossible for me to invest in them and care what happened. After a few episodes, the show felt like a hot mess, pulpy and fun at times but with shifting characters and discordant heavy thematic forays toward gravitas. One of the show’s producers is Jordan Peale of US and GET OUT fame, so it’s not surprising the show is a little nuts but sharply provocative, but while the approach works for me in his movies, it doesn’t quite in ten hours of series viewing.
So overall, I liked LOVECRAFT COUNTRY but despite its courage and distinct identity, I didn’t love it. It’s got a lot of great elements but they just didn’t come together right for me until too late, and its focus on pulp over cosmic dread waters down the power of the story.