Lovecraft Country

Three startled African-Americans in a forest.

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Paul Asay

TV Series Review

Monsters are real. Only some of them have tentacles and fangs.

Atticus Freeman and his family have lived with this reality all their lives. Atticus’ uncle, George, has spent much of his adult life driving across the country and writing Safe Negro Travel books—telling his readers the safest places to eat and stay, even in the Jim Crow South.

The writing’s the easy part, but the research can be terrifying. Atticus knows all about racism from his childhood, his stint in the Army during the Korean War, a few years down in Florida. His own father knew it, too—knew it so well that he was furious with his son for fighting for a “country that hates us.”

But sometimes, the monsters in our midst are less metaphorical and more … literal. Even if they’ve got a little metaphor to their game, too.

The Call of Crow

Atticus and George, along with literal fellow traveler Leti Lewis, have left the relatively friendly confines of Chicago and have made their way north—to the mysterious interior of Massachusetts, where the calendar sometimes seems to have stopped flipping around 1690 or so. No, this isn’t the Jim Crow South, but many folks in this strange, secret land still harbor strange, not-so-secret prejudices. You might not see a “whites only” sign at the local diner. But if you’re black and try to order lunch? You’re liable to get kicked out or shot at or worse.

But George has research to do, and Atticus needs to track down his estranged father—a man who didn’t write him a single letter while he was fighting in Korea but one who suddenly tells him to come to Ardham, a town not even on the map. The letter hints at Atticus’s lineage, a secret long kept.

Soon, the three travelers realize that they must fight more than racist sheriffs and lynch-happy citizens. They’re facing creatures with hundreds of eyes, harpoon-like teeth and a serious hankering for human flesh. Why, it looks like they might’ve just leaped whole out of an Lovecraft novel.

Is it perhaps because they did?

The Shadow Over HBO

Atticus—a rabid pulp sci-fi and horror fiction fan—knows as well as anyone that the real-life author H.P. Lovecraft was a firm believer in the superiority of the white race and his blue blood, New England roots. Both the racist sheriff and the monsters we see in the very first episode owe their terror, in different ways, to the famous writer.

But that doesn’t stop Atticus from liking and reading Lovecraft’s work.

“Stories are like people,” he explains. “Loving them doesn’t make them perfect. You just try and cherish them. Overlook their flaws.”

But in this story, those flaws are out for blood. From the opening credits, we understand that our heroes—George and Atticus and Leti—are fighting systemic and often life-threatening racism as well as battling a bevy of terrifying and life-devouring monsters. Thus Lovecraft Country blends social commentary with schlocky, bloody pulp.

And that’s, of course, where the show’s issues begin.

The social and racial messages of Lovecraft Country may be laudable and timely. But they don’t wipe away the blood and gore and torn-off limbs that fly across the screen. Unfettered by even regular cable restrictions, HBO’s new series makes The Walking Dead look rather restrained. Even Lovecraft himself might say, “Whoa! That’s a little much, don’t you think?”

And while anyone running from some of these critters might be tempted to let fly a choice word or two, those words are almost as plentiful here as the monsters themselves. Sex and sexual themes aren’t unknown in Lovecraft Country, either.

Lovecraft Country offers viewers a multilayered horror story—one filled with monsters that are sometimes not of this world and other times frighteningly a part of it. But the horrors don’t stop with the story: The violence, the gore and the blood are all pretty horrible, as well.

Episode Reviews

August 16, 2020: “Sundown”

Atticus, George and Leti begin their trek from Chicago to Massachusetts, where Atticus will begin his search for his missing, estranged father. But before they get there, they run headlong into a racist Sheriff who threatens to kill them if they’re in the county past sundown—and who seems to mean to keep them there. And he’s only the second-worst terror they encounter.

The first? A pack of Lovecraftian nightmares, all eyes and teeth. As the sheriff and his men prepare to kill Atticus, George and Leti, the monsters attack—one tearing an arm completely off one of the “lawmen.” One monster rips off the head of another man, and pretty much everyone is splattered with blood and gore. The survivors eventually barricade themselves in an abandoned house, but one has been horrifically wounded. Soon, the injured survivor grotesquely turns into one of the monsters and dispatches another survivor in short, bloody order.

George, Leti and Atticus flee a diner (which had been supposedly friendly to blacks) after discovering the place had been torched and rebuilt: They leave just as armed men in a pickup truck arrive, ready to kill. A crazy, bullet-riddled pursuit follows—a car chase that ends when the pickup seems to crash and flip through the air. Leti, and viewers, see the lifeless bodies of their pursuers lying lifeless in the road.

Lawmen point guns and threaten people with various forms of death. In a dream, Atticus imagines he’s fighting in war. People are killed and mutilated in a variety of bloody (but quick) ways. Then aliens attack as well, incinerating hundreds on the field of battle. A massive monster with a tentacle-filled face threatens Atticus before Willie Mays (the athlete who broke the color barrier in baseball) smashes the creature in half with his baseball bat.

In a dream, Atticus meets a floating, bikini-clad woman whose skin is tinted yellow-green. (Later, Atticus suggests that the woman was the product of a John Carter novel.)

We see two men engaged in a sexual act in a shadowy alleyway. (We only see hints of the actual act.) George and his wife engage in foreplay and lovemaking. (Nothing critical is seen, but it’s very obvious as to what’s happening.) Outside the bedroom, the couple’s older daughter hears the noise and mutters, “gross.” Leti wears tight clothing, and Atticus goes shirtless. (Each ogles the other occasionally.) Songs with some veiled, ribald suggestions are sung during a block party. We hear a story of how folks in the 17th century hung a woman accused of “fornicating with the devil who appeared as a negro man.”

We see myriad racist attitudes on display, too numerous to mention here, including a sign reminding African-Americans to leave town before the sun goes down. We learn that George was kneecapped during one of his guidebook research sessions (and probably experienced plenty of other problems, too). We hear the racist title of one of Lovecraft’s works.

We hear some sporadic references to church, and one woman says, “Hallelujah, amen!” after a bus leaves the South. Police officers are called “pigs.” People swear frequently: We hear the f-word 15 times, the s-word almost as many and “n—er” about six times. Also on the profanit docket are “a–,” “b–ch,” “b–tard,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused three times, twice with the word “d–n.”

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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