Screenshot: Lovecraft Country / Season 1 Episode 4 Promo / YouTube
When I first started Lovecraft Country, the latest must-see TV show plastered across the back of every bus in town, I thought I knew what I was watching.
...Then giant slug-like monsters with a million teeth erupted out of the forest and tried to kill all the main characters. So, I adapted my expectations - a monster show set in the past - I’ve seen Stranger Things, I know what’s going on here. I was wrong. I had no idea what was going on. Because within the next few episodes there was magic, a haunted house, time travel and women with tails that suck the souls out of men.
Based on the 2016 novel by Matt Ruff, Lovecraft Country takes the ideas of racist-horror fiction writer H. P. Lovecraft and plonks them in the middle of Jim Crow America, with black characters at the centre of the story. The show weaves together elements of the sci-fi, horror and thriller genres with real events from America’s long history of racism - sundown towns, redlining and the murder of Emmett Till.
We follow Atticus “Tic” Freeman, a young, black Korean war vet as he discovers the bizarre truth about his family history and the rights to magic and power he may have inherited. But it’s not just Tic’s story. It’s the story of his father, growing up gay and hiding it through his violent masculinity. It’s the story of Ruby, a black woman who craves nothing more than the social power and ease of a white woman. And it’s the story of Christina, a white woman who craves nothing more than the social power and ease of a white man. It’s the story of Leti, a lifelong failure, who now conquers everything in her way - the slug monsters, evil racist spirits, death itself. It’s a million different stories, each one as impactful (and creepy) as the last.
When watching Lovecraft Country, it’s hard to know what’s more scary - the visceral horror of monsters, dark magic and ghosts, or the chilling representations of racism that don’t feel historical at all. They feel current, and that’s because they are. Emmett Till might have been killed 65 years ago - but Elijah McClain was last year. George Floyd was this year. Breonna Taylor was this year.
And maybe that’s the point: the fact that seeing two white police officers approach a young black girl in an alleyway is just as scary to the audience as when she’s being chased by creepy little demon children who can kill her with their fingernails is meant to tell us something. Lovecraft Country never shies away from addressing the racist history of horror, fiction and America - even those creepy little demon children were providing commentary on the impact of racist caricatures and stereotypes. The intertwining of classic tropes and images that are meant to scare us in movies with the terrifying truth of the world around us is what sets Lovecraft Country apart, elevating it above its TV cohorts in the horror genre.
Lovecraft Country is insane, gripping, nightmarish and completely unknowable. Each week, it flips from character to character, story to story, genre to genre, monsters to ghosts to magic to intergalactic time travel. I’ve recommended the show to everyone I know, but when they ask me to describe it, I always come up short. I offer them no valuable description, but implore them to watch it anyway. Because even though I have no idea what’s going on, I know that I’m obsessed with every second of it.Support Villainesse