Locke & Key is based on a comic book series, but I couldn’t help from the start thinking about the 80s horror flick House II: The Second Story. Both are about haunted houses with doors that can take you to bizarre other places, and both are more comedic, dark fantasies than the horror their trappings might imply. But while I adore House II, I found Locke & Key more of a muddled mess.
It’s the story of the Locke family moving in to Keyhouse (clever, though it should probably go the other way, right?). The father has recently been killed and the surviving mother and kids are in search of a fresh start. Once inside, however, the kids discover the house is full of magical keys. One allows you to open a door to anywhere in the world. Another allows you to step inside the memories of someone else. Yet another lets you light anything aflame. It’s a good setup for a fantasy series, but unfortunately everything surrounding it doesn’t work as well as the premise.
To start with, the mom character feels woefully out of place. The creators have her pop in when they need her, but it’s never exactly implied what she does for a living other than being an artist, and we don’t really ever see her do that. So, where is she for most of the show?
The kids are fine for child actors, but everything is delivered in the most dramatic, teen soap fashion. A lot is made of the supporting teen case as they’re introduced, but again storylines are dropped for long periods only to pop up again when necessary. There’s a female bully named Eden that swings wildly between hanging out with the geeks to taunting them whenever the script requires it. She’s just not a real character here but a plot device.
If the characters being inconsistent is an issue, the tone of the show is an even bigger one. I haven’t read the comic, but my understanding is it was more horror themed. Here they’ve toned it down as I said to dark fantasy, but at times the show is silly, angsty, scary, melodramatic, romantic, etc. All those elements can be in the same show, but here they manifest as hard right turns. The kids discover their house is full of magic, but they’re too busy going to hockey practice to worry about that now. Why? Because the show needs to develop the romance subplot. I don’t know, but I have to imagine if as a teenager I found magic keys in my new house I would be way, way more interested in that than just about any other hobbies.
By the final episode the show settles more into the dark side of dark, comedic fantasy and it’s all the better for it. There’s nothing wrong with light fantasy for kids, but in a first season that centers heavily around a teen going on a shooting spree—maybe picking a direction and going with it would have benefited the show.