Have you ever wished that Twin Peaks had more vampires and werewolves in it? If so, then Hemlock Grove may be the perfect show for you. However, for the rest of us who enjoy our premium cable vampires in Louisiana and our damn fine cups of coffee just the way they are, this Netflix online exclusive proves to be a bit of a challenge.
Produced by legendary torture porn director Eli Roth and based off the book by Brian McGreevey, Hemlock Grove tells the story of a string of gruesome, animalistic murders that take place in the titular town. At the center of the suspicion is gypsy newcomer Peter Rumancek (played by the relatively unknown and acceptably attractive Landon Liboiron) who must not only deal with the accusing whispers of his classmates, but also with the fact that he is a werewolf. At the heart of the town is also the wonderfully wealthy and incredibly twisted Godfrey family, run by the sexually deviant and very mysterious Olivia Godfrey (a rather alluring Famke Janssen) and her two children: Roman (Bill Skarsgaard, following in his family’s footsteps), and the tragically misshapen Shelley (portrayed in part by Nicole Boivin, Michael Andreae and Lonnie Waugh). Roman soon teams with Peter to solve the mystery, even if neither believes that the other isn’t the killer.
This is the plot in broad strokes, of course, as one of the most tragic parts about Hemlock Grove is the vast unrealized potential sunk beneath convolution. The show works within an interesting mythos, carrying a sort of magic that is presented as so commonplace as to be mundane. This lends to an off-beat, almost Lynchian vibe that often comes off as contrived and/or pompous. Furthermore, the action is noticeably slow, which is impressive due to the sheer amount of subplots intertwined within the 13-episode first season.
One could argue that the best thing about Hemlock Grove was the imaginative creativity that surrounds it. McGreevey clearly dove into obscure Russian mythology to add a relieving twist to the traditional vampire mythos that has been arguably beaten to death. Many of the singular ideas, such as a werewolf having to eat all of the skin he sheds during the transformation in order to change back and a giant malformed flesh golem unable to speak but able to write charming letters, all seemed brilliant and inspired when taken separately, yet all together fall apart in the lackluster execution.
So what went wrong with what could have been a potentially amazing show? Perhaps it is the influence of Roth, who also directed the pilot, peppering the show with gratuitous (and often-disturbing) sex scenes simply because the show does not have to cater to television censors. In true Roth fashion, many characters are promiscuous, but it seems as though most of those who get “punished” happen to be the women who partake in it. The teenage girls murdered throughout the season are noted as being eaten “snatch first”, a fact that it is so disturbing that it should be considered Freudian. Throw in incest, a stab at necrophilia and more mind-rape than you can shake a stick at, one begins to wonder if these things are brought in as valid story elements, or simple tricks to make the show “edgier.” Either way, the show falters.
Hemlock Grove finds itself in an awkward position of being too slow for most horror fans, too quirky for most urban fantasy fans, and too downright gross or strange for everyone else. Perhaps it is the curse of the book adaptation, where writers often forget that what is good to read is not always good to watch. While there is true merit in the acting and many of the concepts, in the end, it ends up coming off as frustrating in its lack of sincere impact.
– By Catherine Kovach