In HBO’s new series “Lovecraft Country,” premiering Sunday at 9 p.m., there are precious few safe places for Black Americans.
Based on the 2016 novel of the same title by Matt Ruff, the 10-episode season spotlights science fiction fan Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors, “When We Rise”) as he searches for his father in 1950s Jim Crow America.
Atticus – the name a solid cue about this man’s character – was apparently a nerd as a kid. He grew out of that skinny boy, but this onetime soldier still loves his pulp novels. Now he has a real-life mystery drawing him back to the South Side of Chicago – his estranged father Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams, “The Wire”) has vanished. He’s left behind an odd letter suggesting he’s gone to investigate his late wife’s family in Ardham, Mass, home to H.P. Lovecraft.
Atticus’ beloved uncle George (Courtney B. Vance, “American Crime Story”) serves as the editor for a guidebook for Black Americans to navigating the country, finding safe accommodations – and avoiding the racist hot spots. (The latter, alas, are everywhere.)
He decides to join his nephew, to gather new material for the readers who depend on his guidebook to keep them safe. Also coming along is Atticus’ childhood friend Leticia (Jurnee Smollett, “Underground”), a civil rights activist estranged from her family.
Before all hell breaks loose in “Lovecraft Country,” executive producer Misha Green does an extraordinary job of world-building. The locations feel absolutely authentic, and the photography is sumptuous.
“Sundown,” directed by Yann Demange and written by Green, takes you for a trip into Atticus’ – known as Tic for short – world. In Chicago, Tic, George, and Leti, are part of a vibrant Black neighborhood with bustling businesses and a tight-knit community who celebrate their own. The local police are a nuisance, but the residents seem to brush off the encounters.
That’s impossible for our trio when they hit the road.
A trip to a diner for lunch turns into a nightmarish race from law enforcement.
Further along, they encounter a sheriff who keeps a mean clock and several trigger-happy deputies.
When the monsters appear – the supernatural monsters, that is – “Lovecraft Country” almost becomes another show. The group’s attempt to fend off a crush of terrifying beasties in a forlorn cabin may remind you of director Sam Raimi’s now classic “Evil Dead II.” The special effects are top-notch, which is another of saying truly grotesque and absolutely in line with Lovecraft’s vision of other-worldly beasts.
The episode ending promises the weirdness is only beginning. “Lovecraft Country’ is a place of nightmares. We’re all just still too close to it.