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Netflix’s Locke and Key mashes up Riverdale and The Haunting of Hill House

An intriguing adaptation of a beloved comic

Locke & Key Image: Netflix

Locke and Key is what would happen if you took the brooding teen drama of Riverdale and combined it with the all-too-real family tragedy and otherworldly scares of The Haunting of Hill House. That might make Netflix’s latest series sound derivative. But while it shares a similar tone as other shows on the service — Sabrina fans will find a lot to enjoy here — Locke and Key’s wildly creative premise gives it its own unique flavor. Yes, it’s dark, magical, and dramatic but in a way you’ve never seen before.

The show is based on the decade-old comic series of the same name by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez, and the premise is largely the same. Following the death of her husband, Rendell (Bill Heck), Nina Locke (Darby Stanchfield) packs up her three kids and moves them to an old family home in small-town Massachusetts. That home, called Keyhouse (please don’t dwell too long on the on-the-nose naming conventions) is a sprawling New England estate that also happens to be home to a number of magical keys. Things really pick up when Bode (Jackson Robert Scott), the youngest kid, finds a woman named Dodge trapped in a well on the property who turns out to be some kind of evil demon.

The keys are really — and I’m sorry to say it like this — the key to the whole show. Each has a distinct ability. One can unlock a person’s mind so they can step through a door into a world made up of their thoughts and memories. Another lets people travel anywhere just by unlocking the closest door. One fixes things, one turns people into ghosts, and others control people or trap them in a terrifying mirror world. They have satisfying names like the Anywhere Key and the Head Key. Bode accidentally stumbles onto the keys because they whisper to him; as he explores the house, he can hear them, and once found, he tries to figure out what they do. Eventually, his older siblings join in, and the trio takes control of the keys.

Locke and Key is a mystery — actually, it’s a few mysteries, and each intertwines with another. There are the keys themselves, of course: where they came from, why they’re here, what they do. There’s also the murder of the Locke patriarch and, oh yeah, that demon lady living in the well. All of these mysteries are connected in ways I won’t spoil, and they’re layered into a story that’s, at its heart, about family. There’s Nina struggling with alcoholism after the death of her husband, teenagers Tyler (Connor Jessup) and Kinsey (Emilia Jones) trying to fit in at a new high school, and Bode being a small, curious kid surrounded by problems way beyond his age. Throw in the keys, and the result is dark, messy, and intricate.

Locke & Key Image: Netflix

While all of these elements are prominent, the show has a particularly tight focus on Tyler and Kinsey and the ensuing high school drama that entails. There are subplots about dating and dances, but they don’t feel forced or out of place. Instead, the writing does a great job of connecting everything, whether it’s a new key with horrifying potential or Kinsey figuring out who she wants to go out with. (At one point, she finally starts dating after using the Head Key to remove her fear, so she’s no longer scared to make a move.) The drawback of this focus is that the show doesn’t fully explore the intriguing, deep mythology that’s in the comics. Essentially, the show expands the focus on characters and the expense of lore. For the most part, the trade-off works. It also provides more fruitful ground for future seasons, which will likely depart even further from the source material.

On the surface, Locke and Key looks like plenty of shows that are already out there. It’s dark and moody, mixing teen angst with lots of magic. But within that familiar framework, it does just enough to stand out. The inventive premise creates the kind of mystery that makes you hit “next episode,” while each new key reveal further expands the magical possibilities. For a show that can feel so familiar, it does a remarkable job of keeping you guessing. The fact that it’s a largely faithful adaptation of an iconic comic series is just a bonus.