Magic realism done right on the screen – Locke and Key from Netflix

If you have a long weekend and want to see something new on Netflix, not too heavy but enough fun and tension to keep you wide awake – I would recommend Locke and Key, another Netflix Original. With only ten episodes, it is perfect for a weekend “get-away” quarantine style (or has it already become my norm?)

First of all, a quick summary of what it is about:

After a traumatic incident that deprives the family of its father, Nina Locke and her three children decided to move away from the city and to the old, isolated ancestral home, the Keyhouse. As Bode, the youngest of the children, accidentally converses with a creepy female voice from the well, he discovers that the Keyhouse is full of magical keys, keys that help them do out-of-ordinary things or even enter the spiritual world. Naturally, if there is magical power, you won’t be the only person who wants it. A very evil force is also doing everything it can to possess these keys. As Bode and his teenage siblings fight to protect the keys, Nina discovers the real reason for her husband’s death and gradually also the secrets that died with him. 

It is not easy to put Locke and Key into a category. It has a significant amount of supernatural horror, high school drama, romance as well as family saga. But the magical realism mode, a subcategory of “fantasy”, quite accurately describes its style. This rather modern (first appeared in the 1940s) narrative method is a way of invading a mundane, familiar setting with magical, surreal moments. Back in the 1940s, magical realism was a way of resistance – Latin American such as writers were resisting against the dominant literary mode in the west, namely realism, and they were inspired by surrealism, an art movement that was taking over Europe. If you happen to ask yourself, “did this just happen in the book/movie/series, or is the character dreaming?”, or when a character asks himself this question, it is very likely that you are looking at magical realist work. These moments happen very often in Lock and Key. Did Bode just hear a voice from the well? Did the reflection in the mirror just wave back? These are the moments that make Locke and Key fascinating. Especially at the beginning, the series takes you on a mysterious journey traveling back and forth between the fantastic and the real world shadowed by a trauma.

Locke and Key as adaptation

Readers of the original comics might be disappointed at the lack of serious horror, but the series intends to delight and amaze rather than to scare. Adaptations don’t have to be loyal to the original work to be good, it can also acquire its own voice.  The horror in Locke and Key is subtle. There are jump scares, but it is the body horror gives you goose bumps every time you think about it. In order for a few of the keys to function, the key has to be inserted into the body, which opens up a cavity at peculiar places to make the insertion possible. It is a grotesque transformation of the body meaning to induce horror, though the alteration is relatively small.

The skin behind the neck slowly opens up a dark cavity in the shape of a key hole…

It is this mix of horror and whimsey that makes the series so special. If you are not a fan of horror, don’t worry, Locke and Key definitely tipps over to the adventurous, fantastical and action-filled side of the spectrum. And this wouldn’t have been possible without the fantastic performance of Jackson Robert Scott. You might remember him as Georgie in “It”. In Locke and Key, he plays an adventurous, brave and surprisingly clever six-year-old. He is determined to protect the keys no matter how horrifying the foes are. His naivety turns out to be his strength.

Unlike La Casa de Papel, Locke and Key is rather detached from social issues and political debate. It’s not that kind of series that makes you put things into perspectives and question certain values. But after all, we are allowed to spend some delightful hours before the TV without pondering first-world problems, right? 

As usual, I will end with a quote from the series. I just love Bode! Sometimes only kids see the truth…

“The reason why she doesn’t remember is because she’s a grown up. That’s how this stuff always works. Only kids can get into Narnia

Bode Locke
Posted in TV

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