TV Review: ‘Lovecraft Country’ Fuses Supernatural Horror With Very Real Racism

The new HBO horror series is brimming with references from buried historical events, wacky and cosmic Lovecraft monsters, and pop-culture from ’50s Americana.

In 1950s Jim Crow America, three black Americans embark on a road trip to uncover Atticus’ (Jonathan Majors) secret birthright. With the Green Book: A Black Travellers’ Guide to Jim Crow America in hand, the trio must tread cautiously and avoid sundown, where it’s free-reign for racist sheriffs and otherworldly beasts alike. Stylistically, the plot is driven by horror and the supernatural, with our leads facing new otherworldly threats each episode, but real-world dangers are at it’s core.

Evidently, if you’ve heard of the author H.P Lovecraft, you’ll know that this series will be no ordinary story of society’s prejudiced monsters. The opening scene transports us into a sci-fi fanatics dream, with aliens, heroes, and Lovecraft’s iconic monster Cthulhu, who is swiftly taken down by mid-century black baseball hero Jackie Robinson, majorly foreshadowing the rest of the series. However, despite featuring H.P. Lovecraft’s iconic name, Lovecraft Country is based around the novel of the same name by Matt Ruff.

An amazingly wacky and thrilling series, Lovecraft Country is headed by some big names that reflect the shows’ many genres. With Jordan Peele, a fresh auteur of black horror movies such as Get Out (2017) and Us (2019) as an executive producer, racial prejudice is bound to be tackled; with J.J. Abrams you can expect some action-oriented sci-fi tropes, and with showrunner Misha Green, you can anticipate some brilliant, well-constructed dialogue, as seen in the historical drama Underground (2016).

As it is Black History Month in the UK, it’s fitting that this series celebrates a wildly talented, largely black cast, whilst bringing to light to the struggles of black men and women in the 1950’s. Additionally,  the show gives storytelling space to people of colour who are often excluded – as one of the show’s directors, Victoria Mahoney, puts it, “it’s Indiana Jones and The Goonies for black folks”. Each episode brings a tonal and genre shift, flitting from monsters, magic and gore, to more typical horror tropes, to time travel and multiverses, along with an array of pop-culture references from Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, and Princess of Mars. However, unlike these notable franchises, Lovecraft Country places black characters at the forefront of these typically white-centric narratives.

“The way the social commentary is woven into the horror and fantasy plot-lines is both empowering and educational.”

Despite the monster of the week format, the series is more concerned the monsters in the street, on the bus, and in police cars. We explore each character’s own personal demons, through Ruby’s metamorphism into a white woman, Hippolyta’s journey of self-discovery through the multiverse, and Atticus’ PTSD and hero-complex, as he fights for a country that ultimately doesn’t see him as human. The way the social commentary is woven into the horror and fantasy plot-lines is both empowering and educational.

This show not only confronts racial injustices in America that are prevalent today, but pulls back the veil on some shocking historical events that have been dusted over in American history books, one of the most powerful and shocking ones being the 1921 Tulsa massacre. Tulsa was one of the most wealthy and thriving black communities in America, only to be burnt down and looted by white racists who hated the communities’ success. The series’ main characters travel back to this event to collect the Book of Names from Atticus’ mothers’ childhood home – one of the homes that was burnt down, with an entire family inside it. Our characters had to stand back and witness them perish without being able to save them, in order to preserve the timeline. As hard as it is to watch, it is imperative that these events are not swept away, but remembered.

The finale is perhaps the series’ most affecting episode, bringing together every theme introduced thus far. When magic-obsessed, power-hungry Christina sacrifices Atticus for her immortality, the family join together to cast an incantation to revoke magic from white individuals, setting up a shift of power for a potential second series, with the white characters no longer in absolute control of the system. But this satisfying conclusion comes at a cost. Atticus learns from his female ancestors that sometimes one must sacrifice themselves for the betterment of future generations, just as his great grandmother had to make a choice to allow her family to burn in order for her future generations to exist and prosper.

Despite Lovecraft Country being set in the 1950s, the modern, non-diegetic music makes it feel current, and with themes such as time-travel, magic, and the supernatural, the narrative is in constant temporal flux. The exploration of African American history is integral, and as we have seen from the events of 2020, racial injustice is not a thing of the past. I applaud HBO for putting on screen what was eradicated from history books. I am empowered, inspired, and disturbed by this season, and cannot wait for the next one (hopefully). 

Lovecraft Country is available on HBO in the US, and Sky Atlantic & NOW TV in the UK.

Words by Ellen Kinsey

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