Alas, the Old Ones have returned and it’s not in a B class horror film! Sundown – the pilot for Lovecraft Country is finally available on HBO, and holy baby Cthulhus it is amazing!
Developed by Misha Green, Lovecraft Country is a horror fantasy-themed period piece based on the Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name, and it is a must-watch for anyone who is a fan of speculative fiction.
Lovecraft Country, produced by Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams, brings a new and refreshing interpretation to the works of HP Lovecraft, as well as his legendary Cthulhu Mythos that is urgently needed.
It is important to keep in mind that genres like horror, fantasy, and science fiction are more than just the tropes that they create, as they are essentially commentaries and reflections on the ugly truths of our society.
Lovecraft Country does this brilliantly. It confronts the United States’ racist past, while also addressing Lovecraft’s racism and xenophobia ideas outright, all through exposition, script dialogue, and interactions with peripheral characters – all while providing a story that is downright scary.
It is important to critically analyze the problematic pieces and artistic figures, and to see characters within the story do that consistently is fantastic to see on screen. Misha Green and the showrunners weave these discussions naturally throughout the script, as it is tied to the external and internal problems the protagonists face in the show.
Overall, Lovecraft Country succeeds in many regards. Both the story and the script are wildly entertaining, containing mystery, noir, and Lovecraftian stylistic elements within it. The dialogue is also impressive as it is reflective of 1950’s Midwest (Chicago) and East Coast (Massachusetts).
The acting in the show is brilliant. Lovecraft Country boasts a talented cast. Jonathan Majors takes the lead as Atticus, with Courtney B. Vance as his uncle, George Freeman, and Jurnee Smollett as Letitia Lewis in the roles of his adventurous companions. The chemistry between them is incredible, whether they are geeking over their shared love for speculative fiction or fighting for their lives from both alien and human monsters.
Also, it’s filmed beautifully. As a period-piece, Lovecraft County is visually stunning. The scenes of the environment, building settings, clothing, and cars are beautiful. The production does a great job of recreating and dragging the viewers into the environment.
There are many reasons to watch this show, especially if you’re into horror and other types of speculative fiction. However, in this article, I’ll highlight three aspects of the show that really drew me in, guaranteeing that I’ll be watching (and writing about this) till the end.
- Communication in Relationships is an endearing theme throughout the pilot
In this multi-faceted pilot, one of the themes that stuck out to me the most is that of communication. Atticus, the hero of this Lovecraftian nightmare, is on a search to find his missing father, who he lost contact with before signing up for the Korean War. A lapse in their relationship occurred due to his father, Montrose, not expressing his feelings towards his son and writing him throughout his term at the war.
Another interesting example is the character of George Freeman. In this pilot, George is in a great relationship with his wife, Hippolyta (played by Aunjanue Ellis), and is encouraging of his daughter’s literary aspirations. Even though Atticus is in good standing with his uncle in the pilot, it is hinted at that it wasn’t the same during Atticus’ youth.
Letitia Lewis also has an estranged relationship with both her sister and brother, as well as her late mother.
Regardless of the characters’ individual backgrounds in Lovecraft Country, it is certain that they will face dreadful situations and that communicating and trusting each other will be an in important part of overcoming those struggles.
- They preserve moments in history that many history books forget
As a writer with an archaeology and history background, this is something that I greatly appreciate with speculative fiction. A lot of historical information and events constantly get downplayed and whitewashed) in the United States, which is why it is important and meaningful to see that preserved and discussed within works of art – especially speculative fiction.
There are two main instances this occurs in with the Lovecraft Country pilot. The first is when we as the viewers are introduced to George Freeman, who is an author of several green books. A green book was an annual travel guide published by Victor Hugo Green in 1936 to inform African American citizens about safe areas in the United States when traveling.
The second instance is with Sundown laws for cities or counties, which is the eponymous title of the pilot. A truly horrific and shameful part of US history, a sundown town was when a municipality would ban African American and other minority groups – such as Jewish and Chinese people – during the evening time in the towns. When caught past the designated time, these people would either be violently attacked or forced into labor by White supremacists (Note: this kept going on until the 1960s in both the Northern and Southern parts of the United States).
Both the green book and the sundown towns are prominent in the story of Lovecraft Country, with the latter serving as one of the tensest moments in a third act that I’ve seen on television in a while.
- The horror is on point!
This is extremely important for me as a fan of the genre in different mediums, as excessive attempts for scares and shock can really dull the moment. The key is finding out the right amount of horrific moments that both deliver on the feeling and serve the story at the same time.
I think finding that balance is rare in most horror films and shows these days because we as a society crave horrific or shocking moments as a form of thrill-seeking. Whether its simple gossip, the news, or amazing horror stories, we humans tend to be wired with this fascination for the unknown or dreadful.
With Lovecraft Country, however, the actors and showrunners do a great job of building suspense, keeping the viewer’s attention, while also exposing them to realistic and fantastical horror that one can find in both our modern-day society and of course Lovecraft Country.
Sundown, the first episode of Lovecraft Country, is an exciting and terrifying story that promises more mystery, dread and The Unknown to those whole keep watching.
Check out my recap on what happened with episode 1 of Lovecraft Country entitled “Sundown.”
Episode 1 opens up with an incredible dream sequence featuring our protagonist, Atticus Finch, in his military fatigues during the Korean War. Black soldiers are fighting and getting shot at by the enemy. Three jets fly by and bomb the area. Atticus jumps out of the trench when it becomes colorized. Images of the American dream appear on the screen immediately followed by images of flying saucers, HG Wells’ fighting machines, and Cthulhu monsters appear wreaking havoc in the area. Then a bikini-clad red woman descends from the flying saucer and proceeds to hug Atticus. She whispers a foreign language in his ear and Cthulhu rises up from behind them to attack them when he suddenly split in half by what appears to be Jackie Robinson. The monster comes back to get them when…
Atticus wakes up from a nightmare on a bus. An older African American lady tells him that they are crossing over a bridge that is probably named after a white slave owner. He laughs and flips off “You’re leaving Kentucky” sign while saying fuck Jim crow. The bus he’s on then breaks down. He sits outside reading while a bunch of White folk are smoking and waiting for the bus to be fixed. A red truck comes up to pick up the people, with a hesitant look on Atticus’ face. He helps the elderly with her luggage. The lady and Atticus are then seen walking with their luggage along the road, as they were abandoned by everyone else. She asks him what book he’s reading to which he responds A Princess of Mars. He discusses the John Carter story, mentioning that the protagonist is an ex-confederate soldier, who becomes a Martian warlord. Appalled that John Carter is the hero of the story, the lady points that he’s got to take the ex away from Confederate as he’s just a simply a Confederate soldier. Atticus points out that characters in stories aren’t perfect and that the reader as to try and cherish them, looking over their flaws. The lady retorts that the flaws are still there, to which Atticus agrees with but then states that he likes pulp stories to both of their contentment. Atticus mentions that he likes heroes in the pulp stories, as young African American men don’t have the chance to be heroes. The lady points out unless you join the army. Here, we find out that Atticus enlisted for the war and that the reason he did so was not to go on an adventure but to get away from his father, Montrose. Montrose is now the reason why Atticus’ coming back home, as this father has gone missing.
Back in Chicago, George and Hippolyta Freeman morning bed discussion. We discover that George is going away, to which Hippolyta says she wants to join him on his trip. She brings up that she’s written the best reviews for the Greenbook, and that she wants to take her own notes rather than look at George’s notes. George exclaims it’s dangerous which gets Hippolyta out of bed. George protests as she says that she needs to work on her party for later in the afternoon. George says he doesn’t remember when he made love to his wife in the light and that he wants to see her, leading them to make love. Their daughter, Diana, is awake in the living room sketching when she hears them go at it and is grossed out. She then goes to the kitchen and rolls up her window shade to find Atticus in the window. Diana screams in shock and then gives Atticus a big hug. George and Hippolyta rush out thinking there was an emergency, but get happy to see that Atticus has returned.
Atticus visits his Uncle George’s shop. Atticus finds a copy of HP Lovecraft’s work, and he and George discuss Lovecraft’s racism. Atticus recounts how his father made him memorize every word of Lovecraft’s racist poem when he found out Atticus read it. George tells Atticus that his dad’s been missing for three weeks. Atticus brings up a letter written by his father and sent to him that talked about his mother and their home town. George is worried as he is told by Atticus that his father discovered where his mother’s hometown was and invited him to join him there. George asks him why Montrose is still fixated with ancestry. Atticus reveals strange details Montrose wrote in the letter, specifically asking Atticus to join him in Arkham MA, Lovecraft Country, to receive his secret legacy. George asks in disbelief if that’s the home of the Reanimator Dr. Herbert West. George continues by saying that Lovecraft based is not a real place as it’s based on Salem MA. Atticus questions his uncle. George examines the letter under the light and discovers that it’s actually Ardham MA with a D, not Arkham with a K, to Atticus’ disappointment. George begins researching Ardham to find any clues that can help them.
Atticus walks out to find children playing in the water of a leaking hydrant, while a cop is working on trying to stop the water from flowing. He walks past an army recruitment posts table and stares down the soldier registering young men. Atticus then enters Denmark Vesey’s Bar and is told by a patron that they are closing early for the block party. Atticus ignores him and walks past the patron, who then stands up and repeats himself. The patron, named Tree, then recognizes Atticus. Atticus asks to speak to the owner Sammy and is told he’s outside, back of the bar. Atticus goes out the backdoor to find Sammy getting serviced by another man. Sammy tells him that he saw his father a couple of weeks back with a white man, which he speculates may be a lawyer. Sammy also mentions that Tree saw Montrose get into a silver Ford Sedan with the white person and drive off.
When then see a block party that’s opened up with a concert of Ruby Baptiste (played by Wunmi Mosaku) singing the Tall Skinny Papa (a reference to Sister Rosetta Tharpe), with the audience dancing. Enter Leticia Lewis – Ruby’s half-sister, who photographs the performance. Ruby asks for requests and banters with the audience until Leticia requests a song. The audience recognizes Letitia and encourages her to go on stage and sing with Ruby. Ruby mentions that they haven’t sung together since their church days when they were young. They begin to sing “Whole Lotta Shaking.” Atticus shows up at the party but then goes into the store. Atticus comes out with a wrench and then undoes the fire hydrant spraying everyone with water and dances in it. The girls finish the song and talk with each other. Ruby points out that Leticia is broke and that she’s only back cause she’s in need of money. Ruby tells her that she’s not going to give her concert tip money, although she sang with. Leticia says that she only needs a place to say. Letitia then notices Atticus, shocked at how much he’s grown since he used to be a scrawny kid. Ruby agrees to let her stay for two nights only, to which Letitia futilely argues, as she needs more time to find a job in a white neighborhood.
Atticus returns home to find his uncle George up, who is suffering from a knee injury he received a while ago. George mentions it’s a blessing he’s able to get help for it. He then mentions to Atticus that he can’t imagine bringing his aunt Hippolyta to the road, revealing that he was attacked by white people outside of the town of Anna, explaining his knee getting shattered. Atticus reminds George whey he publishes the Greenbook, in order to keep their people safe from violence. Atticus sees a map that Diana colored in, and asked about Ardham again. George responds that he was only able to find it in the census once in Devon County, MA. George asks Atticus if he’s going after him to which Atticus responds he needs their family car, nicknamed Woody. George agrees on the condition that he join Atticus on his search for Montrose. Atticus points to the map of Devon county to which George looks at to find a drawing of the Grim reaper that his daughter drew on it.
Atticus is walking outdoors at night near a train railway and climbs up into an apartment building. He enters his father’s apartment, which is filled with a lot of books. He plays puts on a record, playing some music. Atticus then picks up a copy of the Count of Monte Cristo, where he finds a photo of his parents and himself when they were younger. The apartment shakes as a train goes by. He goes through the rest of the house, the bedroom specifically, and finds a gun that his dad has hidden in the closet. He picks up the phone and calls a directory, giving providing the operator with a South Korean number. A lady answers and Atticus stays silent, painfully grimacing. He tries to speak but cannot. The lady on the phone identifies him immediately and points out that he went back home, ominously stating that he shouldn’t have done that. Atticus hangs up the number in a hurry.
The next morning, Atticus arrives at this Aunt and Uncle’s place, where he meets Letitia, who is packing up luggage into Woody’s trunk. We find out that Letitia was a part of Atticus’ high school Sci-Fi club. They embrace, haven’t seen each other in a while. George and Hippolyta come out asking if they are ready to go. Atticus asks if Letitia is coming along, with George saying for only a part of the way. They do a travel checklist with Diana. George asks for her travel comic book, called “Orithyia Blue” – a title she changed from Panther Man on her mom’s suggestion. Hippolyta and Diana then say goodbye to their Dad, Atticus, and Letitia, wishing them safe travels.
Cut to a montage of Atticus, George, and Letitia are driving out in the Midwest while listening to James Baldwin’s historic speech of 1965. This montage shows a racist white gas attendant doing a monkey dance in front of Atticus, who was eating a banana while filling up Woody’s tank. Atticus goes to confront him but then is stopped by Letitia. Atticus throws the banana peel at the white guy, who’s still dancing. All the other white people at the gas station laughing, while Atticus, George, and Letitia drive off. Another part of the montage is of them shopping together. Atticus buys a white flower for Letitia from an African American mother who has a newborn. Then we seem them resting on the side of the road. Atticus is washing, while Letitia is messing with her camera and George is studying a map. George tells them that he got a tip to visit Livy’s diner in Simmonsville, which he wants to check out. Atticus points out that Dee’s drawings show a bunch of trolls where it is located on the map. They agree to go, and Letitia points out that they did not ask her opinion, stating that she wants to choose the radio station.
Atticus, George, and Letitia arrive at Simmonsville. Letitia turns up the music while they are driving upsetting George. Atticus sees a dog at a fire station and has a slowdown moment. George mentions that they are looking for a red brick building located on the far side of the town. Once they arrive, they notice that the name as changed from Livy’s to Simmonsville, which Atticus points out. George says not to judge a book by its cover. Atticus responds that books don’t refuse you service. They walk into the diner asking for service, with a shocked and silent response from a white patron and the white waiter. They wait awkwardly for a few moments and George says that they’ll seat themselves down. The white patron leaves when George asks for the menu. The waiter, still shocked, brings them the menus. They ask for coffee, to which the white waiter leaves awkwardly. Atticus and Letitia want to leave for Marvin’s house, which is a couple of hours away but George states that they have a right to be there since they are citizens and that Atticus is a veteran. George iterates that their money is good to spend as much as anyone else. Letitia goes to the ladies’ room and then hears the waiter calling someone on the phone as she’s walking by. The waiter is saying that there are three black people in the restaurant that just sat themselves down, reassuring the person on the phone that he didn’t service them due to what happened to Ms. Livy beforehand. Meanwhile, Atticus gets a bad feeling as he notices burn marks behind the white paint on the walls. He asks his uncle why the White House is white, to which George responds that it was painted on to cover the burn marks from when it was torched in the War of 1812. Atticus reveals burns mark on the floor when Letitia suddenly runs out of the store while yelling at them to get out. Atticus and George follow suit as an alarm is blaring in the background. They hop into Woody, turn it on, and start driving away. A cop car and a civilian car pull up and start shooting at them while driving. The back of the glass breaks. Atticus pulls out his gun and shoots back at the car, leading to an intense car chase. AS they are driving, Atticus and Letitia notice a silver sports car get driving parallel to them on a different road that is eventually going to merge. Atticus speeds up and beats the silver car, making it get it in between them and the shooters. The car then stops and crashes the shooters’ car, killing the shooters. The driver steps out of the silver car and is revealed to be a young blonde white woman.
The three escape and drive all the way to Marvin Baptiste’s house, who is Letitia’s brother (played by Demetrius Grosse). They recount the incident over dinner, saying it was like a scene out of a Bradbury novel, giving credit to Letitia for saving them. They then talk about Devon County. Marvin mentions the county seat, Bideford, was named after a village in England that had one of the last witch burnings, where they hung a “witch” for “fornicating with the devil that appeared to her as a Negro man.” Marvin continues to mention that Bideford MA was founded by witch hunters and that do not like outsiders. Marvin mentions that there are a lot of missing persons and violence that occur around that town in MA named after Bideford, mainly due to Sheriff Eustice Hunt, an ex-marine and law official who has an NAACP complaint against him. Atticus asks about Ardham, to which Marvin replies that the town was settled around the same time, but they don’t know by whom. Marvin mentions that he called the county of records to see if he could get a copy of the property deeds but that no one answered. Marvin continues to show them on a map that the town is probably in a specific area that is listed as forests, in the middle of nowhere. George asks Atticus what he wants to do. Atticus replies that they should go to the registry to figure out the property lines and determine what the route is to Ardham.
George opens up Diana’s comic while talking on the phone to her as she’s explaining the story. He then talks to his wife, Hippolyta, who says that it’s a clear night and that she was going to go on the roof to try and see Cassiopeia. George then asks her if she would like to join him on the next guide trip, to which Hippolyta happily accepts. They say good night to each other, and George gets back to his daughter’s comic book. He discovers that she drew a Greenbook ad on the last page of her comic. George then pulls out a picture of a young woman from his wallet.
Atticus is reading outside, while Leti is tidying up the living room and arguing with Marvin over her bad spending and missing their mother’s funeral. George and Atticus talk outside, with George commenting on how the argument isn’t good. Atticus responds saying that he’s heard and been in worse. Atticus then brings up to George that a reporter stopped by when he was at his dad’s apartment before asking him on what it’s like “to be a Negro soldier.” He mentions that Montrose lost his temper when he found out, saying that it was bad enough to throw away his life for a country that hates him and that he’ll be inspiring others to join. George mentions that just because Montrose didn’t agree with Atticus’ choice to join the army doesn’t mean he didn’t care about Atticus. Atticus responds by saying that Montrose never wrote him, and cries. George mentioned that Montrose would come every night for dinner during Atticus’ first year in Korea. George says that Montrose wouldn’t leave until he got news from George about how Atticus was doing and that it annoyed Hippolyta. Atticus says it’s because he’s hard-headed, but George responds saying that it was because when Montrose would always get the brunt of beatings when they were younger since he was smaller. George expresses regret in not defending Montrose more in their youth. Atticus mentions that he was small when he was younger and that George didn’t defend him either. Marvin and Letitia’s argument gets louder, interrupting them, with Marvin hurting Letitia. George stops Atticus from going to them saying that they can’t get involved because it’s family business. Atticus walks away as it starts storming. The next morning, they get up to head out of Marvin’s house. Letitia gets into Woody in silence.
Finally in Devon County, the three are driving around on the highway. George says that they are lost as they’ve driven past this spot at least ten times, looking for a road to Ardham. They argue, resulting in Atticus demanding to stop the car so he can take a look. They pull over. Atticus gets out slamming the door and curses. Letitia gets out to help him look for a road. She reminds him of what Marvin said in that they shouldn’t stay out on there after dark. They here a scuffling in the woods, in which Atticus jokes that it’s a Shoggoth, a massive blob of a monster with hundreds of eyes from Lovecraft mythos. As he explains to her what it is, a police vehicle pulls up behind George who is still inside Woody. The cop orders George to get out of the vehicle, and for Atticus and Letitia to walk behind the car. The cop questions what they are doing here, to which George responds politely that they are passing by. The cop asks them if they know what a Sundown town is. The cop mentions that it’s a Sundown county and says that if he caught them pissing in the woods past sundown that it would be his sworn duty to hang them all. Atticus says it’s not sundown yet. The cop says they have seven minutes to leave, to which Atticus says that they will leave in six. The cop says that’s impossible to go South out of the county in that time, and Atticus says they’ll drive North, to which the cop agrees. Atticus then asks if he can make a u-turn. The cop says that it’s normally a violation and that if he asks really nicely that he might let it slip for them. Atticus asks please, to which the cop says that he can do better. The cop demands that Atticus say, “pretty please, will you let this smart n***** make a U-Turn here?” Letitia gets scared. Atticus says it without hesitation. The cop says alright, responding that he will let them go just this one time since Atticus asked so nicely. They then drive away trying to make it without speeding, so they won’t get pulled over again. The cop starts chasing them to the county line. The cop speeds up, driving his bumper into Woody’s trunk as they are driving. Atticus tells Letitia to get the gun. They are getting nervous and are about to make the county line within 10 seconds to spare. They celebrate as they make it in time only to find a cop car blockade with cops pointing shotguns at them.
They are then taken into the woods by the cops, including the initial cop who stopped them initially, indicating a setup. The cops bring Atticus, George, and Letitia into the forest and bring them to their knees, with the shotguns pointed at them. Here, we find out that the cop who pulled them over initially is Sheriff Hunt, whom Marvin mentioned. The sheriff talks about burglaries that happened in Bideford, indicating that he might think it’s them. Atticus calls out to Sheriff Hunt by name and is asked by the cops how he knows the Sheriff’s name, as they threaten to shot him. Then a rustling noise in the woods interrupts them forcing the cops to pull their guns up and away from Atticus, George, and Leticia. A shoggoth monster then comes out and eats one of the cops, leaving his bloodied arm behind. Atticus yells run, and Letitia and George get up and leave with Atticus. George gets knocked down by the cops as they are all fleeing. The monster chases them and takes out another, leaving only Sheriff Hunt and a cop. Letitia and Atticus find an abandoned cabin and go into it. Atticus notices George is missing and wants to go after him, but Letitia pulls Atticus into the cabin. George stays on the ground listening to all the mayhem. He grabs the flashlight from the cop’s former arm.
The sheriff and cop want Atticus and Letitia to open the cabin door, which they keep closed. One of the cops pulls out a gun to shoot the door down. They open the door and get inside, pointing their guns at Atticus and Letitia. Hunt is bleeding profusely from an injury caused by the monster. In the meantime, George is wandering through the forest wit the flashlight and is being stalked by one of the monsters, revealed to be a Lovecraftian shoggoth. Atticus wants to leave to find George but the cops pull their guns on him. Atticus tells Hunt not to shoot him as the noise will bring the monsters to them. One of the cops then notices George approaching the house. They open the door for George, with Atticus grabbing him from outside. The monsters begin attacking the house, and Atticus demands weapons from the cops, over which they argue whether monsters are real or not. George quotes Bram Stroker’s Dracula about the light, stating that while he was walking over to the cabin, they ignored him due to the flashlight. George mentions they should get to the police cars and Woody so they can use the headlights as well as other light-producing objects they have. Atticus volunteers to go to the car but Sheriff Hunt stops him saying that he’s too smart and will probably leave them behind. He then orders Letitia to go instead. Atticus and Hunt argue until Letitia agrees to go, reminding Atticus that she was a star track runner in high school. Leti runs out and gets chased by the monsters as she’s running. Hunt is getting more upset and coughing due to his severe arm wound. The sheriff then starts snarling and turns into a shoggoth monster, with George pointing out that’s what happens when you get bit by a vampire. Meanwhile, Letitia makes it to the car and turns it on. As Hunt is turning, Atticus and George urge the other cop to shoot Hunt to save their lives. Outside, a shoggoth approaches Letitia from the front of the car, but she flips the headlights on, instantly hurting the shoggoth and forcing it to escape by digging into the ground. Another shoggoth then comes up and attacks Woody, jumping and latching on the front window and hood of the car.
Back in the cabin, Hunt is turned and bites the other cop-killing him. Letitia reaches back of the car and grabs her camera, photographing the monster on the front hood, with the flashlight knocking it out. Letitia then drives, running over the monster, towards the cabin. Hunt is in full monster form and about to attach Atticus and George. Atticus grabs the shotgun, shoots Hunt once when Letitia drives through the cabin running over Hunt. Hunt gets up and escapes. George is lost in the mix. Atticus finds him hurt in the other room. Atticus drags an injured George to the car, while Letitia throws flares at other shoggoths. Atticus then helps her fend off a bunch of shoggoths with the flares until they are surrounded by a lot more. A loud whistle then rings through the air, scaring them all away.
Atticus, George, and Letitia are walking on a road during sun-up towards a bridge they drove through earlier, arriving at Ardham. The area is very green, and a large castle-like structure with a dome stands in the background. They walk towards the mansion and find the silver car from earlier that destroyed the shooters earlier that were chasing them. A blonde white man opens the door and says that they have been expecting Atticus, welcoming him home, to a surprised look on their faces. The episode ends with the song Sinner man by Nina Simone.