'Locke & Key' Spoiler-free Review: A truly magical story marred by confused relationship to its source material
'Locke & Key' starts out strong. Visually breathtaking and playfully written, the show brings with it a sense of fun, mystery and magic with a young enough cast for it to potentially be the next 'Stranger Things' (not to mention how much a show based on magical keys is a merchandiser's dream). It's a show that absolutely sells the sense of wonder that it sets out to convey. It's every children's novel that hides a mystery in old-fashioned architecture, with enough secrets and details to be collected within it to keep fans more obsessed with minutiae in happy discussions for weeks. Where it falters, however, is in its complicated relationship to the comic book series that serves as its inspiration.
The show's official synopsies reads: "The show follows the three Locke siblings and their mother who move into their ancestral home, Keyhouse, after the mysterious murder of their father. At Keyhouse, they discover magical keys that may be related to their father's death"
It can be unfair to compare a property to its source material, when they're from different mediums. Shows and movies have differed wildly from the books, comics or video games that inspired them, and as far as entertainment value goes, 'Locke & Key' ought to be judged on its own merits. Unfortunately, that's not something that's easily done here. The show starts off strong, bringing everything fans loved about the original comic by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez to life. The original 'Locke & Key' comic, however, had a very complete, self-contained plot - one that was not written for TV. It's a plot that the TV series relies so heavily on, that every time they make a change, or try to deviate from it to set up more seasons, the show makes a little less sense.
The show's pacing is perhaps its biggest weakness, as the series' primary threat, the Well-Lady (portrayed gloriously by Laysla de Oliveira) seems to spend a lot of the show with no clear goal. Her performance is fantastic when she's on screen, but what she's doing and why she's there is a mystery that can some time feel like it's being dragged out a little too long. Nina Locke (Darby Stanchfield) has a similar problem in that she can feel tangential to the plot. For reasons the show makes clear, she is prevented from being too heavily involved in the series' events, to the extent that her scenes can feel like part of a spinoff for a much less interesting show.
That being said, the show has built itself up a fantastic cast of its own, who can definitely uphold multiple seasons of this franchise if Season 1 goes well - at least as far as the kids are concerned. The Locke siblings - Tyler (Connor Jessup), Kinsey (Emilia Jones) and Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) feel part of a family that genuinely cares for and supports each other, and their dynamic on-screen is charming as they explore everything that makes the Keyhouse magical. A few younger children to give Bode someone to play off of would have been fun, as the only other child from the comic has been aged up a little in the show. The elder siblings, however, have a strong supporting cast of high-school peers, all entertaining enough that 'Locke & Key' would still work as a TV series without the larger, supernatural plot.
It should be noted that while for the mosts part, it can feel like a children's show, every now and again it gets dark. It's definitely PG-13, but the violence, or sex, is not something that isn't prevalent through the rest of the show - when it shows up, it's a a big surprise.
'Locke & Key' is a marvellously produced show with writing that was a little too afraid to stand on its own, and thus stumbles each time it tries. Sometimes it works, often it doesn't, but overall the show is a delightful watch that may just launch the next Netflix franchise that gets everyone talking.