Lovecraft Country

A daydream or waking nightmare travels cross-country with Atticus Freeman, of flying saucers and tripod machines with death rays, of winged, tentacled demons and exotic women who descend from the skies; it may be unreal, but while more exotic it is no more of a horror than the world in which the former soldier has returned to from South Korea.

From Kentucky he is heading north to Chicago sat in the back of the bus in the section designated for coloured passengers, but his mind is elsewhere, on Mars with John Carter and Dejah Thoris, and also on what is to come: having received was a letter from his father Montrose indicating he had a lead on the family of Tic’s long absent mother, his father has now also vanished.

His uncle George Freeman the publisher of a guidebook advising on “safe travel across the states for Negroes,” he accompanies Tic and his friend Letitia Lewis on an expedition to Lovecraft Country, the letter pointing them towards Ardham, a town not shown on any map and last referenced in a census two centuries before; if it still exists, it is off the highway and hidden in forest in Devon County, Massachusetts, territory that is not considered friendly.

Developed by Misha Green from Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name, Lovecraft Country takes its locations and themes from the works of H P Lovecraft, the supernatural, extra-terrestrial and existential dread of ancient otherworldly powers and the subhuman species which coexist and intermingle with our own, recontextualising them in the latter rather than the earlier part of the twentieth century.

Lovecraft’s own narrow view of race having informed his fiction implicitly and his worldview explicitly beyond that which can be overlooked as “the attitude of the time,” nor does it excuse him that he might have looked on all humanity as an unevolved species ripe for culling and subjugation under the Old Ones whose return was imminent.

The short 1912 poem by Lovecraft on the subject of race specifically referenced in the dialogue, his creations are acknowledged but their context and his intention is subverted; this being an exploration of Lovecraft country by those whom the author would have consciously excluded, perhaps predictably, it is not for the faint-hearted.

As would be expected of HBO, the cable channel behind Carnivàle, True Blood and Westworld, the period production values are exemplary, the atmosphere of the street party in Chicago drenched in summer sweat which turns cold as the trio set out across the Midwest across counties still segregated in a country of harsh divides, any stop leaving them open to the possibility of racist abuse or outright violence.

With Captive State‘s Jonathan Majors as Tic, Birds of Prey‘s Jurnee Smollett as Leti and FlashForward‘s Courtney B Vance as George, they are defenceless and without protection of law, mercilessly empahsised in season premiere Sundown, directed by Dead Set’s Yann Demange, where the greatest threat is not supernatural but Sheriff Eustice Hunt (Carnival Row‘s Jamie Harris) who enforces laws only for the whites.

Ruff’s novel a collection of eight interlinked stories, how the adaptation of Lovecraft Country will address that structure in a weekly series remains to be seen with the teaser for the forthcoming episodes indicating that the principal guide will be the title story; this may be unfortunate as without additional variety the single narrative may not be able to maintain the urgency and momentum of the premiere.

That undercurrent of threat omnipresent from the opening scene, the episode rapidly metamorphoses as it travels across the country through city streets of mystery and open fields of tension to arrive at a destination of outright horror, the nocturnal monsters which haunt the deep forest the only disappointment and profoundly out of step with the tone of the rest of the production.



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