Episode 1: Sundown
The first step into Madness
This review/analysis contains spoilers for HBO’s new series “Lovecraft Country; Episode 01: Sundown”
I have to admit, ever since I saw the first trailer for “Lovecraft Country” I have been anxiously awaiting it to start. I even subscribed to HBO and HBO Max basically specifically for this series. As a H. P. Lovecraft fan, I had high hopes. I have yet to read the “Lovecraft Country” novel by Matt Ruff ( you can easily find it anywhere now, whether e-book or paperback, or even good ole’ Hardback), I do, however, have plans to read it once this first season is over.
The amazing team of J. J. Abrams and Jordan Peale are head Executive Producers on the series, so you know there’s going to be high quality filmwork as well as some sinister horror with social commentary mixed in. Boy, is that a mother of all understatements! As you will soon see when watching this first episode.
We open our story in a fantasy. A man fighting a war, presumably World War 2, possibly Korea, I’m not entirely sure of what timeframe the story is set. Definitely late 1940’s to mid-1950’s. The warscape quickly changes to something out of a Lovecraftian story mixed with a little of Edgar Rice Burroughs “A Princess of Mars” mixed in for good measure. To further add to the confusion and horror, C’thulu appears only to be slain by none other than Jackie Robinson (yes #42 from the Brooklyn Dodgers). Craziness ensues until the point of you wondering if this could possibly be how the series will be, and then the main character wakes up. (hahaha)
Ok, so here we go, after quite possibly a bit of foreshadowing, let’s meet our lead. Atticus (of course) Freeman (Johnathan Majors) is a black man on his way home from the horrors of war. Hopefully finding comforts of family and home, yet soon we learn that he’s actually going home to look for his lost father, who had been missing for several weeks now.
The heart of “Lovecraft Country” is Civil rights. It really is. Yes, horror plays into it, but is there a greater horror that we, as human beings, can face than that which we perform upon our fellow human beings based solely on skin pigment, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or anything else that makes someone “different”?
Our man Atticus arrives home, to the Southside of Chicago, a largely black neighborhood. He arrives to the surprise of his cousin and Auntie Hypolitia (Aunjanue Ellis) and Uncle George Freeman (Courtney B. Vance). After a family reunion and a quick breakfast, Atticus goes to his uncle’s auto repair shop to learn what his uncle knows about his father’s reported disappearance. George tells Atticus that his father had learned something about Atticus’s mother’s heritage (his mother died while Atticus was young), and he concludes that his father went out looking to learn more.
While in the shop, Atticus reviews a novel of H.P. Lovecraft’s early work, printed by Arkham Press (fans’ will know that Arkham is the town where many of Lovecraft tales take place). Thinking about it, it may be where DC’s Batman series’ get the name for their famous Asylum…but that’s a topic for another article.
His uncle is quick to correct him. In this particular world the author was set up in ARDHAM, MA county, not ARKHAM. We learn that it was founded by witch hunters from the Salem days.
HIs Uncle is planning a cross country trip to update “The Guide”, (We later learn that this refers to “The Safe Negro Travel Guide” that his uncle not only writes but also publishes).
There’s a block party that evening where we meet our other lead character, Leti Lewis (Jurnee Smollett). A down on her luck drifter/singer who is looking to board with her sister for a time, but soon learns about the cross country trip and decides to tag along to visit her brother, who lives part way between Chicago and Ardham.
Soon, they leave on their cross country adventure. Stopping at the first diner to review for “The Guide”. Quickly we learn that racism and segregation are still alive and well, and violently “enforced” (not unlike today, sadly…Seriously, wtf is wrong with people?). Our party is run out of town in a particularly intense action filled car chase scene, where we are first introduced to the mysterious and possibly magical Silver Rolls Royce Phantom. Not knowing who is helping our heroes, they run from the people who saved them.
All this running takes them into Leti’s brother’s Farm, who has done more and more research on Ardham and some of the strange happenings there. They learn more than they bargained for and that they need to find a building in the middle of nowhere, but to beware the local sheriff in the county that they will be exploring in.
After some inter-family drama takes place, they leave the following morning, and of course become lost in the very woods and county they were hoping to avoid. The sheriff soon stumbles upon them, and all sorts of racially motivated hatred happens to our Black friends. Deeply disturbing…yet not the darkest things that we will see in this episode.
Soon after the sheriff, they find the road blocked by police cars. They are dragged into the woods, beaten, humiliated, and nearly killed. Only to be saved by the creepy sounds of the woods…and the monsters that will soon come out of hiding. The monsters (I’m not 100% sure on which particular Lovecraft horrors these one’s are, so I won’t name them yet), create a bloodbath of “Evil Dead” proportions causing the remaining people to run into the wood and find shelter in a rundown cabin (another nod to Sam Raimi and crew)
I’m not going to spoil the entire monster sequence for you, there are some surprises in the upcoming scenes, I’ll let you watch and learn them for yourself. I fear I may have spoiled a bit too much already.
“Lovecraft Country” airs on HBO and HBO Max on Sundays at 9:00pm EST. It’s an extremely well done horror suspense tale with enough civil rights actions mixed in to make it both relevant to the time that it is set in as well as the evils that we are still seeing today.
With Jordan Peele (a modern day Hitchcock in his own right) and J. J. Abrams working as EP on the series, you can definitely expect the quality of the story and effects to continue to be top-notch. It’s quickly building a deep and twisting mythos and a complicated story of what is right and wrong and what real monsters are, those from another dimension or those that look just like you and I, but with different skin pigments?
More to come in the following weeks…