Have you heard of the latest Netflix original series, Hemlock Grove? If so, it’s probably due to the flashy marketing campaign touting all the blood, sex, and general depravity in red-band trailers (as well as the horror pedigree of a certain Eli Roth attached to the title) as well as recent NSFW clips featuring bone-crunching supernatural phenomena in action. Maybe you’ve even read the novel by Brian McGreevy. One thing’s certain however, this is truly Netflix’s way of branching out with the original series because this couldn't possibly be any more different than House of Cards—this series isn’t meant to be serious sophisticated high art though. Part of its charm is its messiness; the sometimes awkward dialog for example is a hallmark of campy horror entertainment and the first episode of Hemlock Grove is far more enjoyable if that part of it is embraced.
Taken on its own, the debut hour of the series is an enigmatic intentional slow-burn that puts into play characters and situations that will hopefully blossom fully during the next twelve episodes. This is truly a perfect show for the all at once release model Netflix is favoring as of late—I do wonder how patient viewers would be with this series if they had to wait for a new installment each week. Certain pacing structures really seem to frustrate some people.
Hemlock Grove's visual look is more indie horror than big budget but is not without its occasional stunning scene. It’s a little jarring at first for those of us that are inundated with super HD and CGI-enhanced visuals constantly, but it’s easy enough to get used to the production values once the story begins to unfold. The series debut expects the uninitiated to put in a little work keeping track of what’s going on with the people of this seemingly average ‘burb of Pennsylvania as it dives right into their lives without a great deal of immediate background exposition. What can be gleaned so far is that the townspeople have a serious hatred of gypsies, people can have conversations about being a werewolf in a manner that suggests they just as easily could be discussing the weather, and I might have a new ship to look forward to in my future compliments of all lingering eye-fucking sessions between Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgard) and Peter Rumancek (Landon Liboiron).
The first thing that needs to be addressed is that camp level—for some it’s definitely going to be a turn-off. For example, Famke Janssen as the mysterious and clearly dangerous Olivia Godfrey, Roman’s way too creepily attached mother, isn’t as proficient and magnetic a scenery-chewer as say, Jessica Lange in the first (or hell second) season of American Horror Story. Her accent was not the best choice for the character, but I have a feeling that perhaps when things start to really go off the rails supernaturally speaking that it might just start to complement the show instead of physically make me cringe. If I had to describe the overall tone of what I just watched it would fall somewhere between the pilot episode of the aforementioned American Horror Story, a supernatural/horror show on the CW if they had the fancy-free ability to indulge in bare breasts and loose entrails, and even 90’s genre films like The Faculty or Disturbing Behavior. Both of them came to my mind for some reason during my initial viewing despite neither having anything to do with werewolves. It must be something about the mix of a town with big secrets, messed up teenagers, and deadly creatures inside of human skin.
What the show does have going for it is a fascinating dark underbelly just begging to be torn asunder. Hints from pieces of dialog suggest that there is a very good reason for the distrust and animosity toward any gypsies in the town. Not to mention Peter’s mother, Lynda Rumancek, (Lili Taylor) has a moment where it becomes clear that the Rumanceks aren’t in Hemlock Grove by accident—that their being there at all leads to the Godfrey family.
A family who seemingly have very real evil in their blood based on a few flashbacks detailing the tragic end of Roman’s father after he clashed with Olivia—a woman who he claims is not truly human at all. Roman may not have any physical abnormalities like his sister Shelley does that would clearly suggest being the spawn of fill-in-the-blank-here, but it’s clear by the end of the episode (from Peter saying it over and over) that he’s certainly no average teenager.
Right now Peter and Roman are the most compelling characters with special mentions going out to Dr. Pryce and precocious fledgling novelist Christina. A dark act happens within the first moments that winds up bringing Roman and Peter together by episode’s end. Blood certainly seems to be a fascination to Roman in more than just a bored spoiled reckless rich kid sort of way. Roman’s quest for answers in the mystery of how perky and provocative (she was having an affair with a female teacher) Brooke Bluebell perished in such an agonizing and brutal way seems to be driven by something more than the fact that he apparently knew her before she died. I’m essentially basing this on the facts that Peter thinks Roman isn’t fully human and the fact that I’m damn sure his mother is a demon or a succubus—something of that ilk.
I also have to applaud the series for giving us a couple of male leads to follow in this so far since if there was one more special snowflake girl on my screen thrust between two moody boys, I may just burst a blood vessel from screaming. Seeing how the relationships between these characters develop and fall apart is one of the primary reasons I’m excited for more Hemlock Grove. Male friendships are a truly complicated affair and the wrong side of the tracks/richest kid in town dynamic is a classic pairing to explore with Peter and Roman. Small towns with nasty secrets tend to be good entertainment and so far I definitely crave more.