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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Ed Cumming

Locke and Key, review: Netflix has played it frustratingly safe with this contrived drama

Aside from a criminally lame pun that makes it sound like self-parodic ITV3 detective drama, what is Locke and Key? It doesn’t seem to know. It’s a haunted house drama, a teen coming-of-age story, a supernatural exploration of grief, a cynical Netflix binge-schlock. It doesn’t do any them especially well. Based on a popular graphic novel by Joe Hill, Stephen King‘s son, Locke and Keyhas been stuck in development hell for years, although perhaps not long enough. A previous pilot was shot and the original production company, Hulu, eventually passed up on it. Where there’s a project with even the vaguest glimpse potential, Netflix waits with a cheque for 40 episodes. 

In the cold open, we see a man stab himself in the heart with a key (oh I see) and spontaneously combust, setting fire to the house around him. The credits roll, and we meet the Locke (oh I see again) family. They are moving to Matheson, a pretty town on the New England coast, after the violent death of patriarch, Rendell Locke (Bill Heck). There’s mother Nina (Darby Stanchfield) and her three children, Tyler (Connor Jessup), Kinsey (Emilia Jones, daughter of “Walking in the Air” legend Aled, for Snowman trivia fanatics) and Bode (Jackson Robert Scott).

They take possession of the old family house and odd things start happening. Bode starts talking to a woman down a well, and finding keys (got it) around the house that let him open magical doors. Meanwhile, each of the family members is dealing with non-fantastical problems of their own. Nina is drinking too much. Tyler is good at sport but also quite thoughtful, which passes for rounded. Kinsey can’t fit in at school, despite the efforts of, who goes out of his way to befriend her. Left at home alone, for reasons that aren’t totally clear, Bode makes mischief with the keys. After some initial astonishment, nobody seems that perturbed by the goings on at home.

There’s a bit of The Haunting of Hill House, a bit of Stranger Things and plenty of contrived mystery. You can almost see the invisible hand of the algorithm guiding the action: cute kid, good-looking teenagers, opulent interiors. I’ve not read the graphic novel, which is meant to be unsettling, but this is firmly horror for all the family. It’s not so much that it’s let down by any one element. The cast and script and direction and production are all as glossy you’d expect from a production like this. But it is frustratingly safe, at once too much and not enough. If Netflix won’t take a risk, viewers shouldn’t be expected to, either.

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