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LOVECRAFT COUNTRY ****

Creator: Misha Green from the novel by Matt Ruff

Starring: Jurnee Smollett, Jonathan Majors, Aunjanue Ellis, Abbey Lee, Jada Harris,
Wunmi Mosaku, Michael Kenneth Williams

 

On Demand - Sky Atlantic.

 

Something deliciously wicked, scary and provocative this way comes. Get ready for your new obsession as super producers J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele combine their innovative talents for HBO’s superb new 10-part series based on Mark Ruff’s 2016 dark fantasy novel. Brilliantly exploring the connection between the weird fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and racism in 1950s America during the Jim Crow era, LOVECRAFT COUNTRY cleverly uses pulp horror cliché to underline the indisputable fact that human behaviour is far more frightening than anything going bump in the night. Just like STRANGER THINGS borrows heavily from every 1980s shocker you know and love, these intertwining adventures into forbidden knowledge zones evoke a far broader range of inspirations. From THE HAUNTING, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and THE EVIL DEAD to AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, POLTERGEIST and READY OR NOT, series writers Peele, Ruff and UNDERGROUND’s Misha Green hits the thought-provoking nail on the head for cliff-hanging cosmic chaos.

 

Black Korean War veteran Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) returns to his Chicago ghetto home to learn his estranged father Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams from HAP AND LEONARD) has gone missing under mysterious circumstances. Apparently he was headed for somewhere called Ardham that seems impossible to find on any map. So Atticus, his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and childhood friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett, the series’ breakout star) set off for New England to track him down. Even though armed with George’s ‘Green Book’ they still run foul of violent prejudice and ‘No Coloreds’ signs. But one sinister altercation accidentally helps them find a mansion in the middle of a rustic enclave. There the wealthy Braithwhite family is keeping Montrose chained up in a basement, a mere cog in a celestial scheme destined to change everyone in unexpected ways.

 

Each episode focuses on a character concern and reflects a different genre conceit to audaciously punch over its message mystique. But the narrative Braithwhite family through-line remains to anchor what is essentially a centuries-long battle between dimensional freedom and racial oppression. The only difference here is that ancient magic is the conduit for that end, not an early incarnation of the Black Lives Matter movement. Nowhere is that more powerfully shown than in Ruby’s (Wunmi Mosaku) story. Letitia’s restless half-sister might become a singer of some renown but her overriding ambition is to be one of the first black sales assistants at Marshall Field's department store. How she achieves that aim provides this already out-there series with its best special effects and most shocking act of revenge. Episode 5, remember that show-stopping number!

 

The first episode sets out its future stall impeccably. Young Atticus is caught up in a ‘John Carter of Mars’ fantasy complete with warfront action, aliens from outer space and laser battles before the full realisation sets in this is his diversion from constantly borne intolerance. The fact that Lovecraft himself was an avowed white supremacist makes this series an even more fiendish concoction. What better way to highlight sadly still cogent sociological issues than by using a known racist writer’s own themes against them? With so much going on subtextually, it’s easy to overlook the sheer joyous voyage into the fun unknown that LOVECRAFT COUNTRY brings to its vast terror tableaux. Who can resist booby-trapped museums, sharp-toothed burrowing creatures and haunted elevators slathered in a pitch perfect 50s design and wonderfully augmented by a mash-up of period appropriate pop and current hits? So take well-deserved bows directors Daniel Sackheim, Yann Demange, Cheryl Dunye, Victoria Mahoney and David Petrarca, your edgy escapism is a devilish delight.

 

Alan Jones.

 

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