Yes, I’m late with getting on this series. Don’t worry. I plan to do some serious binging over the next few days.
Midway through the first episode of Lovecraft Country’s first episode, I was ready to turn it off. I was prepared for an unpredictable sci-fi experience featuring a black cast. The opening act exceeded my expectations with HG Wells style War of the World alien ships blasting, alien princesses and Jackie Robinson clobbering an alien with his bat.
But from there, Sundown felt like more of a window into 2020 with racist cops harassing black people for no reason.
“Geesh, can’t we even enjoy a sci-fi, thriller/horror without some douchebag racist abusing their power?” I yelled at my TV. But that’s the catch with racism, isn’t it? There is no escape. At least in Lovecraft Country, the racists get devoured and mauled by vampire-like beasts. And that’s when the show first hooked me.
Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors, Da 5 Bloods) has returned home to Chicago from a stint in Florida following his service in the Korean War. It’s the peak of summer and while not as obvious as the segregated South, the racial tension is simmering and set to boil over.
Atticus has returned home after his father, Montrose, has been gone for extended amount of time. Black men turning up missing isn’t unthinkable, but Atticus isn’t fearing the worst yet.
His Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance, Project Power) writes a travel guide so blacks know the safest paths to travel avoid unwanted (re: uber racist) attention. The shade on the 2019 Best Picture winner Green Book is palatable and glorious. George doesn’t actually write the guide — his wife Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis, Ray) — does, but it’s far too dangerous for a black woman to travel the roads on her own. So it’s up to George to take very good notes.
Interesting note: Hippolyta is the name of Wonder Woman’s mother and queen of the Amazons. It’s not a coincidence then that their daughter is named Diana (Jada Harris) with an affinity for writing and drawing her own comic books. Sundown writer/series showrunner Misha Green doesn’t waste much time in showing that Lovecraft Country is going to be a series viewers will need to pay close attention to in order to get all the subtle Easter Eggs.
George and Atticus discover a lead with some insight on Montrose’s whereabouts and head out. They’re joined on their expedition by Attictus’ childhood friend, Letitia ‘Leti’ Lewis (Jurnee Smollett, Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey). Leti is the black sheep of her family — and irony statement as she is the sibling with the lightest complexion — rarely able to maintain her cool with her siblings.
It doesn’t take long for the trio to encounter some rifle toting chumps representing the whites only welcome wagon and a sheriff all to happy to explain the meaning of a sundown town.
The latter sequence is particularly unsettling as it feels way too much like situations that stoked the Black Lives Matter fire so strongly this year. Director Yann Demange milks all the tension for what it’s worth teasing the desperation of escaping the clutches of a crook operating with a badge to enforce his prejudices.
What makes Sundown so unique is what happens next as one nightmarish setup ends with more of a Grimms’ fairy tale with a horrific twist that feels like a welcome happy ending.
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As the evil sheriff and his henchmen in badges toy with Atticus, Leti and George they learn they’re the ones being preyed upon as a swarm of creatures devour them. It’s immensely satisfying watching monsters get what’s coming to them.
Atticus, Leti and George are better able to adapt to this unimaginable situation as they’ve had to deal with terrors that seek to devour them and their hopes and dreams on a daily basis.
The sense of camaraderie and familial bond is evident early on with Majors, Smollett and Vance. This is the kind of adventure trio we’ve seen with the likes of Indiana Jones, The Mummy or a Star Wars. Everything feels wide open and everything is possible with this setup and such a strong core of actors.
Sundown is an engrossing hour and feels as comprehensive as a full length film. The cliffhanger sets the stage for the kind of series I’ve been waiting to see for years.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Photo Credit: HBO