• James Kunovski

Lovecraft Country: First Impressions of Pilot (Sundown)

Moderate spoilers for Lovecraft Country below.

So, HBO’s Lovecraft Country premiered yesterday. The pilot follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he teams up with his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and his old friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) in the search for his missing father across 1950s Jim Crow America. I figured dot points were the best avenue to explore my thoughts. Having never read the novel by Matt Ruff and having only seen the official trailer, these are fairly blind impressions. The points below are from a single viewing and are in chronological order.

  • There is a lot to unpack from that opening nightmare sequence. Racism as a tangible monster is established early on. Jackie Robinson defeats the colossal creature only for it to surely reassemble.

  • Atticus (who is often affectionally called Tic) is a bookworm. In a moment of dramatic irony, he will find himself in a predicament similar to the stories he admires. “It’s about heroes who get to go on adventures, defeat the monsters and save the day.”

  • Glad to see Courtney B. Vance and Aunjanue Ellis in even more textured roles.

  • I wonder how, or if, the Korean War will tie into Atticus’ characterisation and motives. Last show that I recall making this a plot device was Mad Men. Completely different points of conversation though.

  • Appreciate that the story does not shy away from politics. Very subversive to include a Lovecraft novel given the notoriously racist real Lovecraft would have despised this series.

  • I expected an anachronistic soundtrack and I do like how it blends well into the broader soundscape.

  • Love the way they introduce the assortment of characters, in this case Letitia, in a way that obscures how she will become a part of the story. Right now she’s singing in front of an eager crowd after time away in ‘who-knows-where’. It’s intriguing.

  • Great sound design so far. Never has a passing train or a phone dial sounded so rich. Kudos to Paula Fairfield who also worked on Game of Thrones.

  • The photography and lighting of night scenes are particularly commendable. Surprised to see the use of sodium lights which most cinematographers would gladly avoid.

  • A rousing segment of a James Baldwin speech, a true master of prose, is featured. He was the gentleman who questioned the intentions of the American Dream and likened it to a sense of reality. In this concoction of bigotry, science-fiction, and segregation, will these characters even find the answer to that pressing question?

  • In the montage of establishing shots that play under Baldwin’s speech there was a pretty awesome reference to the 1937 photograph "At the Time of the Louisville Flood" by Margaret Bourke-White.

  • That car chase sort of came out of nowhere and boy did the creators do a good job at quickly ratcheting up the action. Also, the scene set the groundwork for what looks to be a trio of powerhouse performances by Majors, Smollett and Vance.

  • Interesting how Atticus’ father is shaped by the conversations people have. This rings true in real life. So much is gained and lost in that type of portrayal. Perspective can be deceiving. This scenario also applies to Letitia’s mother.

  • Some of the arguments in the car over directions and whatnot are reminiscent of the road trip genre. Of course, this road trip does not come with the joyful connotations of that word but it reveals Lovecraft Country as a mashup of many genres that also include fantasy and horror.

  • There’s another chase, this time at sundown. Given its historical outlook, the effective establishment of clear antagonists (which I feel might change over the series’ course) creates a grounded momentum. If there’s one thing Lovecraft Country does not suffer from, it is timeliness.

  • What on Earth just jumped out of the bush? I’ll say it again. This show sure has a way of creating tension out of the blue.

  • That confrontation with the many-eyed monster, which I’ve forgotten the name of, was perfect. Can’t wait to see what they offer in that vein.

  • As is the case with series pitches, every new project can be likened to one that came before. So far, certain moments have echoed Stranger Things, The Twilight Zone and the works of Guillermo del Toro. The car chases reminded me of Mississippi Burning and an unfortunate number of other films.

  • Great ending twist and transcendent credit song choice. It certainly feels like there is going to be plenty of expansion and change in the upcoming episodes, especially given how successfully they captured most of the anticipated plot elements in the pilot alone.