Television Man by Aidan Morgan
I’m starting to think last week’s Republican National Convention (CNN International) may have been haunted. I only caught a few minutes of democracy’s snuff film, but it had the kind of production values and performances normally associated with your nephew’s found-footage horror movie. The flat lighting, orange pancake makeup, robotic gestures and crazed pinhole eyes — it all suggested to me that the GOP is a cabinet of possessed dolls that somehow escaped their display and are now bent on remaking the world into a wunderkammer of atrocities.
Racism Vs. Monsters
Strangest of all is how GOP obsessions neatly dovetail with television’s most fascinating new horror/drama/wtferry. Lovecraft Country (HBO/Crave), adapted from Matt Ruff’s mashup of mid-century American racism and Lovecraftian horrors, is a spiritual follow-up to Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen series, which also dug deep into American history and pulp entertainment. Like Lindelof, show creator Misha Green forgoes a strict adaptation and turns the source novel into a Mobius strip of monsters both supernatural and all-too-human.
This is the part of the column where I’m supposed to sum up the premise of the series, but after watching the first three episodes I’m frankly not sure where it’s going, beyond regular doses of monsters and racists. Every episode feels like a slightly different horror subgenre, which induces plenty of dramatic whiplash as the viewer (that’s me) attempts to keep up with dreamlike shifts in the action. I recommend simply watching Lovecraft County and throwing most of your expectations out of the window.
Horror, Reel And Real
One thing you can expect, along with outstanding production design, are uniformly great performances from its cast. Michael K. Williams, Courtney B. Vance and others appear in supporting roles, but the show is held together by Jonathan Majors (Da 5 Bloods) and Jurnee Smollett (Birds of Prey, Friday Night Lights). Majors is Atticus Freeman, a Korean war vet with a taste for pulp horror who discovers a magical inheritance in his blood from the white family who enslaved his ancestors. Smollett is Letitia “Leti” Lewis, a free-spirited woman whose relationship with her family is contentious at the best of times. Smollett annihilates the screen, delivering moments that probably wouldn’t work in the hands of an actor with lesser conviction.
Despite occasional dips into melodrama, the series works because it draws such a strong line between the horror we consume as entertainment and the horror some of us are compelled to experience by virtue of our position in life. For the Black characters of Lovecraft Country, the genuine horror lurks behind their white neighbours’ bland faces.
You can see some of those terrifying faces in real life. Just go to YouTube and check out clips from the RNC.