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Locke and Key brings together the Amblin vibes of Stranger Things, the chills of Haunting of Hill House, the impossibly good looking cast of Riverdale and retro spookiness of Goosebumps into a magical 10-episode series that feels destined to become a Netflix smash.
Based on the critically acclaimed Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez comic book series, the series follows the Locke family, who are returning to their ancestral home after the shocking murder of their father Rendell.
The home Key House is filled with dark secrets from Rendell’s past and a series of keys with magical powers - a Head Key allows the owner to step inside their own brain, a Matchstick Key that gives you fire-starter skills at your fingertips, a Ghost key that lets you, well, become a Ghost, obviously. And so on.
Locke and Key jumps across genres - fantasy, horror, high school love stories, family drama - and is utterly addictive. There’s no chance you’ll watch the first three episodes and then not end up binging the whole thing in a weekend.
BT TV caught up with two of the show’s main cast, Darby Stanchfield, who plays the Locke family matriarch Nina, and Connor Jessup, who plays the eldest Locke sibling, the dashing hockey player and high school heartthrob Tyler.
Why we all love a haunted house story
Poltergeist, The Changeling, The Others, The Haunting of Hill House, The Amityville Horror. There is a rich TV and film history of haunted houses, mansions and creaky old buildings with locked doors, dingy basements and secret attics.
Locke and Key fits into that rich tradition, playing with the conventions and tropes of haunted house horror.
It turns some of the stereotypes on their head. Early on in the series, the lead female character Kinsey Locke, removes her fear emotion using the Head Key, ensuring that she’s the opposite of the hopeless damsel in distress.
However, Locke and Key does delve into the fears that we all have about creepy old buildings in the wilderness and breathes fresh life into the genre.
“It’s a classic theme,” says Jessup.
“It just taps into something we all have. My greatest fear when I was growing up was, I couldn’t fall asleep when I was a kid, unless I was in a very specific spot in my bed. Because I thought the house wanted to kill me.
“I thought every noise at the window was someone coming in. Whether you live in an apartment, the city or an old barn out in the country, it’s a universal experience. The fear of the unknown, the fear of darkness, this just magnifies that.”
Stanchfield believes that there is something intrinsic about “old architecture” that adds the chills factor.
“There’s just something about it. It’s like the sites where battles have taken place. Places where there is a rich history. It always feels like there is old life there.”
Jessup adds: “One of the themes of this show is family. And it’s a family who are going back and exploring their history. And how their history continues to haunt down the generations. And the house is the physical embodiment of that.”
How Netflix finally make Locke and Key?
In one form or another, a Locke and Key adaptation has been in the works for over 12 years. The hit comic book series always felt ripe to be brought to life, but movies have failed to get off the ground and pilots have been turned down by multiple TV networks and platforms.
So how did Netflix finally get it right and capture the magic.
“This is the third time in the attempted making of Locke and Key. But we had the great advantage of having Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez really supporting us,” explains Stanchfield.
“And by putting it into the hands of [executive producers] Carlton Cuse and Meredith Averill, it built a really cohesive team.”
Jessup admits that there was an “initial burst of nerves” about taking on a series that was held so dear by fans of the comics, but believes that they have made a good decision to shift the tone and dynamic rather than create a page-by-page recreation of the source material.
“This show is not a literal interpretation of the comics,” said the young actor. “From what I’ve read, from the critics who’ve seen it, they think it’s a new fresh take. It’s been nice to make it ours and find our way.”
Joking about the addictive nature of the series, he adds: “We’re hoping everyone sitting down to watch has seven and a half hours on their hands.”
The terrifying Mirror Key scene
The magical keys in the show provide several jaw-dropping and head-spinning moments for viewers.
One of the first major set-pieces comes from the use of a Mirror Key, which ends up involving Stanchfield and Jessup trapped in a spiralling world of reflections.
Jessup laughs that he hopes we liked it because “it was a nightmare” to film.
“I think I was in a box of mirrors for four days. It was pretty arduous,” said Stanchfield.
Explaining how they shot the sequence, Jessup said: “You were just stood staring at reflections of yourself in every direction. I guess that may be some actors’ dream.
“It felt like a pyschological torture we were going through. It was very tense.
“When they were shooting that scene they realised that in order to create the effect they wanted, they would need to shoot the scene in every single direction. So Darby and I had to do the scene 45 times. We just had to do everything 5 degrees different, slightly moving one elbow or one shoulder.”
Stanchfield adds: “And we were screaming in that scene, so we had to reproduce that reaction, over and over and over and over.”
The true fears of the cast
“The only scary moments I remember are performances that I did,” deadpans Jessup, when asked whether the chilly atmosphere ever transferred onto the set.
Stanchfield, who admits that she is too pragmatic to be scared by the supernatural, said that the scariest moments on set for her was having to work with stand-ins for the younger members of the cast.
“The stand-in child isn’t talking to you, so the voice is coming in from someone off camera 30 feet away and you’re trying to have the same moment-to-moment magic that you have when the real actor is stood in front of you,” she explains. “That is a regular occurence and that’s pretty scary.”
The skill of 'scared' acting
Another challenge for the actors was knowing how to pull off convincing ‘scared’ acting, especially when faced with fantastical sequences and surreal magical events.
“It’s something I think about a lot,” admitted Jessup. “Because I think if I was actually in one of these situations I would be totally frozen to the spot. When I step in the road and a car races past right in front of me, I feel like I freeze and my whole body stops.
“I feel like if someone held a gun to me or something truly horrific, I feel like I would do the same.”
Stanchfield revealed that for scenes involving magic and scares, the cast spent extra time rehearsing.
“It’s really easy to fall into the trap of doing the exact same expression. We really try to tap into what is scary about each moment, what is uneasy about this moment, how much understanding do they have about what’s going on,” she said.
“There are nuances of confusion, disbelief, total fear or fearing for the life of your family.”
The making of Key House
Filmed in a freezing cold Toronto, Locke and Key looks beautiful on the screen. However, there were more than just chills from the mysteries and demons lurking in the shadows.
"You would wear five layers of long-johns, it was that cold" recalls Stanchfield.
"It was freezing," says Jessup. "You know it’s cold when you can’t actually talk. There was one scene where I literally couldn’t say any of my Rs or Ts. It was horrible."
The Canadian snow and freezing temperatures made it the perfect location to film the series, but how did they find the perfect building to match up to how fans have always imagined Key House? The answer is that they built it all from scratch.
"I’m not sure if you can tell when you watch it, but both the interior of the house and the exterior of the house were built for the show," explains Stanchfield. “The entire property is designed and created for Locke and Key.
"The Key House interior sets are mind-blowing in person. They have all the details. All the keys. It’s incredible."
Locke & Key is streaming now on Netflix.
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