You don’t get to be a popular, critically acclaimed comic book without someone trying to turn you into a movie or TV show. As such, there’s been studio interest in Locke & Key since the Joe Hill-written, Gabriel Rodriguez-drawn comic debuted in 2008. Unlike projects like, say, a film version of Y: The Last Man, a TV version of Locke & Key came to fruition quickly. The pilot was directed by Mark Romanek, written by the genre triumvirate of Josh Friedman, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman, and had a capable cast (anchored on the adult side by Miranda Otto), but wasn’t ultimately picked up for a full series during a stuffed Fox season that boasted an animated version of Napoleon Dynamite and a Bones spin-off you can’t name without googling.
Since then, the comic book’s televisual fate has been lingering in development hell, but it may be providence that it was batted down by Fox back in 2011 simply because the network landscape has shifted so dramatically. Hill announced last summer that he’d be writing a new pilot script, and with today’s news that Hulu ordered production on a pilot, to be directed by Scott Derrickson, Locke & Key is in a great position to bring something completely new to the world of comic book TV.
Ironically, it’s the FX show Legion that may have paved the way. Something that may have been too weird for mainstream television back in 2011 is the basis for popularity and potential awards today. Locke & Key puts a family recovering from the tragic murder into a magical, maniac mansion where keys forged from the spirit dust of demons unlock secret powers. Things get gloriously, boldly, unnervingly bonkers in the course of the story, and any adaptation that could truly be called “faithful” will have to go for the insane gusto.
So how could Locke & Key be a unique presence in serial storytelling? First and most importantly, there’s Hill’s sprawling imagination. Again, as a matter of faithfulness, if Derrickson’s Hulu version can utilize the structural language of the comic book, it should find a happy blend of horror, adventure, and magical realism fueled by overlapping times/emotions. If it’s not experimental, it won’t truly be Locke & Key.
The second main element to bringing that imagination to life is the long list of powers and experiences granted by the keys. One key lets you look into a vibrant representation of someone’s brain (and toy around in it). One key turns you into a ghost. One key swaps your sex. One key gives you angel wings to fly. One key turns you into a music box miniature that can command all who hear your music. One key summons an echo of the dead in the well house. The scope of what’s done with the keys essentially turns a half-dozen characters into a legion of X-Men, and all of their adventures happen literally on top of a Lovecraftian realm of shadow beasts trying to get into our world.
Comic book TV has established a tone for horror (see: Walking Dead) and a tone for superheroism (see: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and Locke & Key could blow both up by mixing them chaotically together.
The other major reason to think the show may be different than anything we’ve seen before is the combination of Scott Derrickson at the helm and Carlton Cuse as showrunner. Derrickson’s name instantly raises the promise of Doctor Strange‘s visual craziness: a complicated, kaleidoscopic style that would naturally find a home in Keyhouse. The only limitation would be (ahem, Hulu) the budget. Fortunately this version will benefit from almost a decade in CGI advancements.
Cuse’s involvement is cause for even higher hopes, specifically for his work ethic, storytelling rigor, and complete lack of fear in going through the mist-covered door in left field to the wondrous dimension of what-the-fuck-did-I-just-see. If you’re going to combine the head-scratching nature of Lost and the unsettling creepiness of Bates Motel, why not get the guy who did both?
If Hulu orders a full series, the best thing they can do is remove any shackles from the creative arm of Cuse, Derrickson, and Hill. The potential of the show is also its greatest challenge and would require introducing new visual styles on a weekly basis: from 80s high school drama to Revolutionary War mysticism and large-scale battles and a ghost kid spying on his family and a carnival-colored trip through the living thoughts of an adolescent mind. Every episode could be a fresh surprise with Derrickson and any other directors bringing a new energy with each installment. Where Romanek was perfect for the ice-cold mourning of the initial story, it’s easy to see varied wish-list talents like Guillermo del Toro, Michelle MacLaren, and Hiro Murai bringing their signature styles to a continually-metamorphosing show.
Or, at the very least, the creative team could gamble on making the audience uncomfortable by refusing to deliver the expected. Every week can be a new discovery that takes us in a new direction, because that’s what the comic books did. It will be a demanding, ambitious undertaking, but Locke & Key could help us move into the next phase of risky, boundary-less comic book television.
Images: IDW Publishing
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