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The true monsters of “Lovecraft Country”

On August 16th HBO released the first episode of its latest original, “Lovecraft Country”, an American supernatural drama depicting veteran Atticus Freeman’s journey from Chicago to Massachusetts in search of his father. Joined by his uncle George Freeman and childhood friend Letitia “Leti” Lewis, Atticus follows a lead which causes the trio to search for Ardam, a town that disappeared from the map 200 years prior. As they progress in their search, the three travelers battle a series of horrifying “Lovecraftian” monsters, while simultaneously enduring discrimination from their white peers and the police. The first episode, in particular, balances writing, cinematography, visual effects and music to create a breathtaking introduction to one of HBO’s most popular series. 

The first scene of the series opens on the protagonist, Atticus Freeman, fighting in the trenches against an unseen enemy. An abrupt explosion transforms the visual from black and white to color, and the cameras zoom out dizzyingly to display the full scale of the battlefield and reveal the fantastical enemy: UFOs, winged beasts, giants. The visuals of the scene are an ode to old-school science fiction, with red and green lasers lighting the battlefield and monsters at times taking up the full focus of the camera. The monsters are so realistic that it seems as though they were present in the physical shooting of the scene. By beginning with such an alarmingly realistic, supernatural scene, it is immediately established that the show is set in an alternate America in which monsters are very, very real. 

 The strategic combination of writing and music choices implemented throughout the episode play an integral role in conveying the message of the pilot by drawing a parallel between the brutality of the Lovecraftian monsters to that of the everyday racism the characters experience. Most of the show’s background music is 1950’s jazz and blues, but during a sequence in which Atticus walks around his old town, the 2019 song “CLONES” by Tierra Whack plays. As the song plays, the camera shifts from a police officer harassing a group of black children to a military recruiter trying to recruit young city boys. The harsh lyrics of the song not only accentuate the brutality that the show critiques but also bring a modern edge to this scene, implying that, even now, both police brutality and targeted military recruitment are still issues.

The themes of police brutality and abuse of power are present in other scenes in the show as well. Constant parallels are drawn between members of law enforcement and the deadly Lovecraftian monsters. While Atticus, George and Leti travel through Devon County in search of Atticus’ father, they confront both hostile monsters and law enforcement, with the uncertain nature of their journey often blurring the lines between the two. The show draws similarities between the local police and the brutal monsters that hide in the surrounding wood by closely tying the fight scenes with the monsters and the police. By making both police and monsters fight only at night — the monsters due to their light sensitivity, and the police because they enforce the laws of a “sundown county,” or a place that black travelers must leave before sunset in order to avoid racist violence — the show further blurs the line between its villains. Later in the pilot, the two threats symbolically merge as the local Sheriff Hunt transforms into a monster and proceeds to attack his own men, completely dissolving the separation between the two horrors and merging them into one terrifying entity.

Ultimately, the pilot for “Lovecraft Country” and its message are as timely as they are spectacular. By closely comparing monstrous violence to racially motivated violence, the show explores themes of anger, hatred, discrimination and corruption that are relatable to every viewer. The first four episodes of the series are currently available on HBO Max and HBO Now, with new episodes released each Sunday. Fans of drama, science fiction or supernatural horror should be sure to check out HBO’s newest original series. 

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