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SYFY WIRE reviews

Lovecraft Country: Critics say HBO series' hot button themes are just as scary as the unspeakable horrors

By Josh Weiss
Lovecraft Country Jonathan Majors

HBO isn't fhtagn around with its adaptation of Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country, according to the first reviews. The latest high-end series from the premium network is, like Damon Lindelof's Watchmen, an acerbic and timely genre takedown of racial divides and prejudices in the United States. And, for good measure, there are a few horrors from beyond the stars thrown into the mix, because it wouldn't truly be "Lovecraft" without an indescribable entity that can drive a sane person out of their mind.

Set in the 1950s (a time period that allows for some detailed production design), the show centers on Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors), a young African-American man, who makes the decision to travel into Deep South of America in order to seek out his missing father, Montrose Freeman (Michael Kenneth Williams). Along for the dangerous road trip are his best friend, Letitia "Leti" Lewis (Jurnee Smollett), and uncle, George (Courtney B. Vance).

As the trio soon discovers, racism isn't the only thing lying in wait for them. Shoggoths and ghosts prove turn out to be just as prevalent as cops with a bigoted worldview. Still, the monsters are only meant to serve as metaphors that highlight the true ugliness of our country, and that's where Lovecraft Country is said to really shine. It has no reservations whatsoever in exposing the hair-raising creature that is racial discrimination. The core cast — who have seen previous action in projects like Hamburger Hill, Da 5 Bloods, and Birds of Prey — are also netting a lion's share of critics' praise.

Executive-produced by Jordan Peele (Get Out) and J.J. Abrams (Westworld), the series is show-run and written by Misha Green (Underground). The series premieres on HBO Sunday, Aug. 16, at 9:00 p.m. EST. Aunjanue Ellis, Abbey Lee, Jada Harris, Wunmi Mosaku, Jamie Chung, Jamie Neumann, Jordan Patrick Smith, and Tony Goldwyn co-star.

Lovecraft Country: Official Trailer | HBO

Utter a quick prayer to Cthulhu and then see what critics are saying below ...

"Lovecraft Country may not always be better than HBO's Watchmen, another recent show that used popular genre forms as a way in to larger sociological debates, but it often makes Watchmen (or even executive producer Jordan Peele's Get Out) look tentative by comparison. This is a show that hooks you fast — and one toward which it's nearly impossible to be ambivalent." -Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter

"Lovecraft Country faces challenges similar to those of Watchmen, with more limited strengths. This show, too, wants to tell a tale that’s big in thematic sweep and iconography. Here, though, what’s borrowed tends to work against the plot: The violence of Lovecraftian horror is so extreme, and the threats so outlandish, that even the most evil impulses of humanity seem an inadequate counterweight. Lovecraft Country is more of Lovecraft than of our country. And though the performances are very strong, the characters are so rigorously put through a horror story’s beats as to defy our truly getting to know them until around the fifth episode — a long wait." -Daniel D'Addario, Variety

"Using supernatural terrors as metaphors for the more down-to-earth kind is a reliable staple of the genre, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Peele’s own Get Out. But Green and her collaborators employ the device with particular deftness, toggling back and forth between racist cops and shoggoths, or burning crosses on lawns and ghosts lurking in sub-basements." -Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone

"Lovecraft Country is a show as obsessed with the sometimes goofy hallmarks of genre fiction as it is with the true horrors of America’s past. Sundown towns, slavery, sexual assault, and the genocide of colonization are all treated as monsters as terrifying as the Lovecraftian beasts that also stalk the show’s characters. The fantastical elements are what make Lovecraft Country so damn fun, but the cold hard look at America’s racist past and present are what make it feel so urgent in 2020." -Meghan O'Keefe, Decider

"There is much of interest in Lovecraft. The set pieces are well done: Some money and care has been expended on staging, not just as regards the spookier special effects, but on some very nice period work, creating a corner of mid-1950s Chicago that feels inhabited and inhabitable; party and bar scenes are well-populated and choreographed. The monster attacks, crazy dream sequences, scenes that borrow with no embarrassment from Raiders of the Lost Ark and the places Raiders borrowed from, all work as they’re meant to." -Robert Lloyd, The Los Angeles Times

"Green’s smoldering vision gives way to powerful multi-layered and dimensional performances, and she does not shy away from uncomfortable topics, leading a show in an authentic fashion that also allows a safe space for this ensemble of actors to bring the weird, petrifying, loving, cruel, unusual, and painful stories of Lovecraft Country to life in uniquely distinct and subtle ways." -Kay B, Collider