Review: ‘Lovecraft Country’ debuts with new spin on classic horror

Since its inception, horror has almost always been an allegorical genre of storytelling. The monsters that terrify us most in film and literature are often a fictional reflection of our real-life fears. In HBO’s new series “Lovecraft Country,” the very real threat of racial injustice in America is juxtaposed against a cosmic one. Within the span of its first episode, the series promises an intriguing and dynamic take on the works of one of horror’s most influential authors.

The series sets its story against the backdrop of a segregated America as it builds upon the Jim Crow era of the 1950s. The plot follows Atticus Freeman, played by Jonathan Majors, as he commences a cross-country road trip in search of his missing father. Over the course of the first episode, his travel route forces him to confront monsters that are both supernatural and human in nature.

“Lovecraft Country” draws from the works of H.P. Lovecraft, one of the horror genre’s most fundamental and influential writers. Lovecraft’s early 20th Century works were so influential that his name itself has become a descriptive word for a horror subgenre. Lovecraftian horror, also known as cosmic horror, is a type of storytelling which explores the themes that Lovecraft pioneered in his work — themes like the universe’s indifference to humanity, madness and human insignificance all feature prominently in Lovecraft’s work.

Despite Lovecraft’s wide-reaching and enduring influence, he was also a well-know bigot. “Lovecraft Country” does not shy away from his racism and sexism, but instead uses his beliefs to further develop the story.

The first episode features both incredibly racist police officers and terrifying cosmic monsters. The most interesting aspect of the way the first episode unfolds is how neither of these threats are treated as worse than the other. By portraying each of the episode’s antagonists as equally deadly, the audience is shown how the real-life evil of racism is just as horrific as the fictional monsters.

One of the most impressive qualities of the series’ premiere is how the cinematography and shot compositions further express the themes of the narrative. There are multiple sequences where the camera floats through the scene along with the characters, allowing the audience to follow along with them.

Although the narrative takes our characters through many small towns in rural America, the shot compositions make the environment look overbearing and ominous. The characters look small and vulnerable within these settings, which visually conveys the Lovecraftian themes of human insignificance.

By using the works of H.P. Lovecraft as a launching point for an original story, the series is able to feature references to his work which gives further context to the narrative. The characters do not live in a bubble, but they live in an anachronistic world where they are just as familiar with the horror genre as the audience is.

“Lovecraft Country” features a very unique and fresh premise which takes the cosmic horror genre into a place that it seldom goes. The first episode sets up an intriguing narrative that will hook fans of cosmic horror and casual viewers alike. The series airs Sunday nights on HBO and is streaming on HBO Max.

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