The vibe of Netflix’s “Locke and Key” is best described in Netflix terms. The image of the Locke family moving into their spooky ancestral home after the death of their father (Bill Heck) recalls “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” The kids — sensitive jock Tyler (Connor Jessup), tentative rebel Kinsey (Emilia Jones), and precocious Bode (Jackso Robert Scott) — happening upon a supernatural scavenger hunt for a collection of powerful skeleton keys, and subsequently a cataclysmic chain of events that leads to sporadic demonic showdowns, is pure “Stranger Things.” The teenage drama unfolding in the margins at the local boarding school leans into the umpteen CW shows perpetually crowding Netflix’s “watch next?” suggestions. Add them all up and you’ve got “Locke and Key,” an appealing teen adventure series about magic and mysterious family secrets that’s engaging and easy enough to breeze through in a couple sittings.
For fans of the original comic — or anyone following along the property’s decade-long, unusually turbulent journey to the screen — this designation might come as an unpleasant shock. Joe Hill and and Gabriel Rodriguez’s “Locke and Key” is a twisted horror series that delights in making its readers unable to sleep after delving into its world. Netflix’s “Locke and Key,” as created by Carlton Cuse, Meredith Averill, and Aron Eli Coleite, has some startling moments, but can comfortably be called “family friendly” so far as spooky stories go. This is a bit surprising from Cuse (of “Lost” and “Bates Motel”) and Averill (of “The Haunting of Hill House”) specifically. It’s not as if this team didn’t have the capacity to go scarier if it wanted to.
That, of course, doesn’t mean this particular adaptation has no value. I had a fine time watching Netflix’s Lockes learn about the keys and their family, fight their own figurative and literal demons, and try to save the day. Jones’ Kinsey is, by a wide margin, the most compelling of the Locke kids, while Darby Stanchfield makes the most of a part that must be frustrating to navigate, being the show’s designated “what’s going on?!” prompter of exposition. Much of the magic effects err towards the purposefully cheesy in the vein of an old Spielberg joint, which is fine, but unremarkable next to the times when the show gets more inventive, particularly when characters get to go inside each other’s heads.
Still: After watching all ten episodes of the show, I have some sympathy for the preexisting “Locke and Key” fans who might tune in expecting a shock of horror to their systems. Netflix’s “Locke and Key” works, but it also feels like the inevitable product of the streaming network’s own algorithm. It feels so calibrated to what’s already worked for Netflix that it ultimately feels more safe than anything else.
“Locke and Key” premieres February 7 on Netflix. (10 episodes; all watched for review.)