17 August 2020 12:40

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HBO's Lovecraft Country: Episode 1 Review

Adapted from Matt Ruff's 2016 novel by Misha Green, Lovecraft Country is a 10-part horror-cum-thriller-cum-social drama that will make you tense, and then deeply uncomfortable, before pushing you into true nightmare territory. Starting today on Binge, the 1950s-set Lovecraft Country takes the iconography of genre pioneer H.P. Lovecraft, who influenced the likes of Stephen King and Guillermo del Toro, and uses it to tell a story that Lovecraft, a white supremacist, would have abhorred. Vance) and friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett), embarks on a road trip to Massachusetts in search of Atticus's missing father Montrose (Michael K. You might expect a journey through the northern states of the US to be less perilous than if the characters were driving through the south, but much like Get Out, Lovecraft Country reinforces the fact that racism is pervasive everywhere, not just in former slavery states. George is the publisher of a guidebook for black Americans travelling across the country (similar to Green Book), a journey that is fraught with not just segregated windows at burger joints but being "caught" in a sundowner town or country.

One of Lovecraft Country's most effective sequences deals with this exact experience, a high-jeopardy, dread-laden set-piece in which Atticus, Letitia and George have six minutes to make it out of the county while being followed by the sheriff who will just as easily brutalise them for speeding. In the superbly crafted Lovecraft Country, whose producers include Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams, the humans are worse than any mythological creature or ghostly beings appropriated from Lovecraft's cosmic horror – the reality of that ugliness and hatred casts a far more malicious shadow than anything in your imagination. Lovecraft Country is confronting and visceral because it has to be, not because it should be – it wants you to feel it in your bones because there's nothing easygoing or copacetic about the story it's telling. Lovecraft Country starts streaming today on Binge This review contains spoilers for Season 1, episode 1 of HBO's Lovecraft Country, "Sundown." Though largely ignored in his lifetime, Lovecraft's work would later find its audience among a new generation of readers, and to this day he is credited as the most prolifically recognized author of "cosmic horror" fiction, made popular by his collection of novels and short stories encompassing what is known today as "The Cthulhu Mythos." In the case of Lovecraft Country, by reconfiguring the tropes and narrative structure of Lovecraftian horror fiction around a subject — a black man in mid-20th century America and his extended circle of family and friends — who would otherwise be rendered either peripheral or monstrous by Lovecraft's own hand. "Stories are like people," says Atticus "Tic" Turner, the protagonist of Lovecraft Country as he walks alongside a fellow traveler down a lonely road on the way to Chicago.

[A] Little negro boy from the South Side of Chicago don't notoriously get to do that." Played by Jonathan Majors, known for his scene-stealing turn as the gentle playwright Montgomery Allen in 2019's The Last Black Man in San Francisco, his portrayal of Atticus is just as emotionally nuanced and considered. "I know that like your mother you think that you can forget the past — you can't," reads Montrose's letter as Atticus recites it for his Uncle George (Courtney B. With his father now missing and the only clue to his whereabouts lying somewhere in the isolated town of Ardham, Massachusetts, Atticus, George, and his childhood friend Letitia "Leti" Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) must embark on a journey to bring him safely back home. What Lovecraft Country's first episode does particularly well is foreground the presence and experiences of black women. Awash in the ethereal glow of fuschia lighting, Black bodies dance in joyful abandon to Ruby's scintillating cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "I Want A Tall Skinny Papa" followed by a duet performance of Dave "Curlee" Williams' "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On." Matter of fact, the sole exception to the episode's otherwise period-appropriate soundtrack is an appearance by Tierra Whack's 2019 single "Clones" while Atticus walks through his neighborhood in an earlier scene.

By far one of the stand-out moments, if not the stand out moment of the first episode of Lovecraft Country is the cross-country montage of Atticus, George, and Leti traveling through the heart of the Midwest, narrated by a sobering excerpt of James Baldwin's opening statement during his historic 1965 debate with conservative commentator William F. The escape out of Devon County before sunset is a tense cat and mouse encounter of racial terror, as the town sheriff bears down on George's Buick with a force as malevolent and unrelenting as any of Lovecraft's own horrors. The episode's climax in the woods of Worcester County is a gruesome onslaught that feels like a remix of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead and the car chase scene from Jordan Peele's Us. It's a fun finale, though one that all too conveniently diffuses a confrontation of genuine terror and emotional stakes. The premiere of HBO's new sci-fi period drama, Lovecraft Country, adds a disturbing new dimension to the phrase "sundown town." Lovecraft Country's protagonist, Atticus Freeman (played by When We Rise's Jonathan Majors) drives through several of them in the HBO drama's first episode, enduring inhumane taunts and outright attempts on his life in the process. But the final spot Atticus visits turns out to have an extra level of horror: It's a sundown town where many-eyed beasts attack anyone who happens to be in the woods after dusk.

The hour starts with Atticus on a bus to Chicago; he and an older Black woman sit in the back, their white fellow travelers sit up front. When the bus breaks down, the whites get ferried to the next town, but Atticus and the woman have to walk. Along the way, we learn that he's a military vet, he likes science-fiction novels, and he's going home to look for his dad. Atticus eventually arrives at the apartment where his Uncle George (The People v. George runs an auto shop and is the editor of the Safe Negro Travel guide, a Green Book-type reference directing Black travelers to establishments where they'll be welcome and safe.

At the garage, fellow sci-fi lover George says he's not worried about his brother Montrose, Atticus' father, who's been missing two weeks. "The past is a living thing," the letter says, stating that Atticus has "a secret legacy, a birthright that's been kept from you." Atticus also is worried that his father seems to reference "Arkham," a fictional Massachusetts town that shows up in stories by sci-fi/horror author H.P. Lovecraft — an author Montrose loathes, thanks to Lovecraft's blatant racism. But George points out that he's reading the handwriting wrong: Montrose mentioned "Ardham," not "Arkham." The men later learn that Montrose left with a white man in a silver sedan; they make plans to leave for Ardham, Mass., the next day. After running into some terrible whites at a gas station who make ape noises at Atticus and Leti, and passing town-limit signs that flat-out state "N—ers, don't let the sun set on you here, understand?," the trio stop at a diner George has heard good things about. But it's been renamed, and there's a distinctly hostile vibe when he, Atticus and Leti walk in. While Leti is in the ladies' room and the nervous waiter is in the back, Atticus realizes that everything in the place has been whitewashed — just like the White House after it was burned during the War of 1812. Atticus, George and Leti manage to get in the car just as a truck and a fire engine come screaming down the street. It's not looking great, especially when Atticus notices a silver sedan speeding toward them, as well. After a very loud fight with her brother (over money and the fact that she didn't come home for their mother's funeral), Leti decides to continue on the trip with George and Atticus rather than stay in Springfield. "It's not sundown yet," Atticus says, which is true, but it will be in seven minutes. And after the sheriff burns a few minutes humiliating Atticus, there's a slow-mo chase out of town that involves the sheriff ramming George's car from behind a couple of times. Everyone is covered in blood, and there are more monsters nearby, so Atticus and Leti run. Eventually, George reunites with Leti and Atticus in the cabin where they've found shelter with the (still super racist and terrible) sheriff. But the sheriff won't let Atticus go for the car and its very powerful headlights, so Leti goes instead. The next morning, a bloody and bedraggled Atticus, Leti and George walk to Ardham, arriving at a mammoth estate with a silver sedan in the driveway.