Locke & Key is an adaptation of the graphic novel series written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, which centers around three children who discover keys with magical powers hidden in their home. Like other Joe Hill stories (In the Tall Grass and Horns to name a few), Locke & Key has turned into a major live-action production, finding its home as a 10-episode series on Netflix. Although the source material is notably dark and violent, Locke & Key has been lightened up a bit and made presentable for a TV-14 audience. Despite these changes, Locke & Key still manages to produce enough magical intrigue to keep you invested, even when the juxtaposition of tone and predictable storytelling leaves you wanting more.
The House of 1000 Keys
Locke & Key follows the story of the Locke siblings, a trio of young adults who are forced to move to Massachusetts following the murder of their father. The oldest of the three, Tyler (Connor Jessup) is the strong and silent type who finds some stress relief competing on the school hockey team. Kinsey (Emilia Jones) tries to navigate the new high-school alongside her brother as well, struggling to balance typical teenage life with the tragedy of her father’s death. Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) is the youngest of the three, and spends most of his time exploring Key House, the sprawling mansion in Massachusetts that the Locke kids now call home.
Unfortunately, Key House doesn’t feel very welcoming to the Locke family. Accompanied by its drab décor and creepy well-house, neither the Locke siblings nor their mother Nina (Darby Stanchfield) are immediately pleased with their living situation. After getting some help with unpacking from their Uncle Duncan (Aaron Ashmore), the family tries to work their way back towards a normal life. As Kinsey and Tyler start to make friends at school things seem to be looking up, until Bode discovers a magical key that shakes the foundation of everything that the Locke siblings know.
Where There’s a Key, There’s a Way
What starts as a family drama with a tinge of horror quickly becomes a wild fantasy thriller, as the Locke kids uncover more and more magical keys with extraordinary powers. One key allows you to travel anywhere in the world, while another opens a hidden dimension within a mirror. While each key offers immense power, some are far more dangerous than expected. As Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode experiment with the keys, they start to uncover their dark history and the fate that has befallen past key-holders.
Make no mistake about it, the discovery of these keys and their powers are the driving force behind Locke & Key. While the plot is serviceable enough, it never excels past being “good enough” and remains mostly predictable throughout. That said, it was always awesome to see the introduction of a new key and the implications its powers had on the story at hand. There’s always a great level of intrigue and mystery surrounding the keys and their history, which develops from a side-plot into the overall focus of the latter half of the season.
Locked Up Scares
All things considered, Locke & Key is a damn good adaptation, but it falters in some key places (no pun intended). In addition to the previously mentioned predictable story beats, Locke & Key suffers from a confusing tone, frustrating characters, and by playing things too safe. Any fan of the Locke & Key graphic novels will immediately notice the changes made from the original story, which mostly softens the overall violence levels. While this more whimsical tone works in the beginning, it eventually causes problems as the show attempts to evolve into a more serious story.
When possible, Locke & Key chooses to be whimsical and aloof rather than dark and sinister. It favors the “teen drama” aspects of its story more often than necessary, which often leads to characters making bad decisions simply to progress the story. As the narrative attempts to evolve and include bigger stakes and consequences, it consistently feels held back. Generally speaking, Locke & Key can’t seem to figure out if it’s a serious mystery with dark overtones or a whimsical kid-friendly fantasy with notes of peril. By not committing one way or the other, the final product feels slightly jumbled and messy.
Should You Watch Locke & Key?
Although it’s far from a perfect show, there are still plenty of reasons to check out Locke & Key. The concept is exceptionally cool and executed well, with cool special effects to boot. While characters can be occasionally frustrating, they’re all performed very well by a cast of talented young actors and actresses. The production value stays great throughout and there’s enough intrigue to fuel some interesting conversations with your co-workers and friends.
I hope that future seasons of Locke & Key offer a more serious tone with believable violence and stakes, because that’s one of the only things holding it back from achieving the same level of popularity as a show like Stranger Things. Until then, Locke & Key stands strongly as a flawed but imaginative season of television with plenty of potential.
Rating: 3/5 Stars