I had seen reviews for the graphic novel version of this on r/fantasy a few times over the years. I used to be huge into comics and graphic novels, but over the years the price vs time spent on reading them forced me into mass market paperback as a broke college kid, and I never really returned to the hobby. Since this is written by Joe Hill and it’s already on Netflix, I decided to check it out.
This story revolves around a family that just lost the father/husband in a bizarre murder that happened in front of them. Trauma all the way around the board for this family. The father was a teacher at a school and one of the students, Sam, shot him while inquiring about something called The Key House (not a spoiler addressed in the first episode). The mother decides to up and move to…of all places…. The Key House. It’s the ancestral home of her husband and get this – he never liked talking about his past. As if it were somehow traumatic and terrible and probably not a great place to bring the family since he never once returned. Red fucking flags, anyone?
The youngest kid starts to hear whispering throughout the house and finds magical keys, each with unique and incredible powers. There’s a key that lets you go anywhere in the world so long as you’ve been there before, (and with a door). There’s a key that lets you go inside your own head and explore your own thoughts and memories. There’s a key that allows you to become a ghost and fly around and meet other ghosts. Each of these keys has a darker side to them though, unforeseen consequences of using them that are nasty surprises once you run into them. I guess one of my bigger complaints would be the old trope where the characters should absolutely know what they’re doing is stupid, and yet they persist with very risky behaviors. Would you continue to use these keys willy nilly when they can have super obvious, very bad consequences? I would have found it more believable if at first the keys weren’t so obviously tainted with danger. Maybe instead if it had started out with more benign adventures and then only later did the danger come to the forefront I would have believed it more. If myself and the people around me almost died I wouldn’t have used another key, even if I was a 10-year-old kid.
I wasn’t a big fan of the storyline surrounding the girl, either. The guy who’s pursuing her is probably meant to be a “good guy” but how hard he was pushing and how frequently he was asking her to come over and hang out was just agitating to me. It’s obvious he was just a teen with a crush, but it was grating to watch.
The special effects were really well done, it’s clear they spent a lot of time finding good people and spending money on the effects – in contrast to Dracula with their ridiculous ’80s style effects.
The acting left a LOT to be desired. I always feel like an asshole saying that a kid’s performance in a show or movie was subpar… they’re just kids and trying their best. However, this was pretty terrible, especially the youngest kid. The lines were so predictable (not the kid’s fault, the writer’s fault) and they were delivered with a heavy saccharine feel to it. It felt like someone was scripting these kid’s lines rather than kids talking. This show also dipped into one of my biggest pet peeves…. hiring people in their late 20’s and early 30’s to portray high school kids. Just find some kids who can act. See: Stranger Things.
There’s a woman who calls herself “Echo/Dodge” who is the antagonist and villain throughout. She’s always in the background being a looming threat just waiting to fall on the family. She wants to get the keys from the house but can’t take them forcibly, they have to be given to her from one of the Locke family.
There are some tropes that gotten super stale to me, like kids being able to see magic but adults not being able to. The youngest kid being the “weird one”, which usually means smart kids or kids who enjoy reading and school.
I did find some of the ideas for what the keys did to be imaginative and engaging. It felt like an old school fantasy movie that I would have seen in the ’90s. There was one moment where I felt genuinely sad for a character, but the impact didn’t last since I hadn’t cared about that character for the entire series and only really had one moment to shine. He was one of the better actors on the show as well, the crazy kid who killed the dad at the start.
This definitely feels like I would have loved it as a kid or even a teen, but as an adult, it was just aggressively okay. I basically just took a giant shit all over this show, however, if I had kids around the target audience’s age, this would be far more appealing than some of the other films that fall under the YA subgenre. It’s not a horrible series, I did watch it to the end and I don’t think it was a waste of time to do so. It also looks like I came down on this a lot harder than other people as it has a high score from IMDB.
Old school magic house with kids able to see magic but not adults kinda tropes. Magic keys open magic doors or hold other incredible powers, but they can have severe consequences – many kids have died using these keys. A brooding older teenage brother. Quirky “weird” little brother tropes.
- Acting: 4/10
- Plot: 6.5/10
- Special Effects: 7/10
- Writing: 5/10
Final Score: 5.6/10