Lovecraft Country Review: HBO series mixes Lovecraftian horror with 1950s Jim Crow America

Lovecraft Country - Courtney B. Vance, Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett. Photographer Eli Joshua Ade HBO
Courtney B. Vance, Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett. Photo by Eli Joshua Ade/HBO

When HBO released its Watchmen series, it received lots of praises and some backlash for its take on the DC Comics miniseries. As a sequel to the comics and created by Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers), it touched on racial tensions spanning from 1920s Jim Crow America to the present. It also happened to be a superhero show. Next up from HBO is Lovecraft Country, a series also dealing with racial tensions, only this time it’s set in 1950s Jim Crow America. Instead of superheroes, this one is a supernatural horror series inspired by Lovecraft with surprising twists, disturbing atmosphere, and spine-chilling monsters.

Based on the book of the same name by Matt Ruff, Lovecraft Country is a ten-episode series following Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors), his childhood friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) and his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance). The trio goes on a road trip from Chicago across America in the hopes of finding Atticus’ father Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams).

Lovecraft Country - Jonathan + Jurnee Photo by Elizabeth Morris HBO
Photo by Elizabeth Morris/HBO

Lovecraft Country is a horror show where the real monsters are the humans, not the creatures. Even though we follow the main characters around, it feels inspired by episodes of the Twilight Zone with weird encounters and different stories.

The show will draw comparisons to Watchmen since both are on HBO, features blacks struggling in Jim Crow America, the dangers of being gay in the past, tentacles, and sci-fi elements. Besides that, Lovecraft Country holds its own by tackling different subject matters. For example, what would happen if a black person becomes a white person? Okay, so that’s also similar to Watchmen.

Lovecraft Country captures the scariness of being black in 1950s America including driving and eating in a sundown town and living in a predominately white neighborhood. There are also risks when dealing with cops and white superiors. These are very frightening times, and some of it will definitely be hard to watch.

Lovecraft Country - photo by Elizabeth Morris - HBO
Photo by Elizabeth Morris/HBO

I haven’t forgotten about the Lovecraft part of Lovecraft Country. The show really sets the mood by opening up in a Korean War sequence filled with flying tentacle creatures, flying saucers, tripod machines. It’s really absurd, but things get darker as the series continues. Atticus, Letitia, and George will encounter killer monsters, ghosts, and more. The episodes we saw had unfinished special effects, but the ones that are finished are visually striking. There are scenes featuring grotesque transformations, and they are terrifying and cool.

Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett deliver solid performances. Abbey Lee as Christina Braithwhite has grown as an actress. Of all the cast members, the standout performances belong to Wunmi Mosaku as Letitia’s sister Ruby. When her story starts to pick up, it becomes engaging, fun, and unnerving.

There is one gripe I have, and it’s the use of modern music. Misha Green has done this before with her Underground series, and it felt distracting on both shows. For Lovecraft County, it takes away from the 1950s setting.

Final Reaction

Showrunner Misha Green and her team have crafted a creepy series with Lovecraft Country. Although it has some similarities with HBO’s Watchmen, it’s able to bring in another perspective. What we have is a dark and mysterious journey in 1950s Jim Crow America that’s disturbing, spine-chilling and out of this world.

Score: 4/5 Atoms

The review is of the first five episodes of Lovecraft Country, which was made available to media.

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John Nguyen
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