Today, Netflix released all 13 episodes of its new original horror series Hemlock Grove, based on the novel of the same name by Brian McGreevy and produced by Eli Roth. After the critical success of the subscription platform’s House of Cards series, it’s easy to see why viewers would be excited for the next offering. Hemlock Grove though is worlds away from House of Cards, and while many outlets have slammed the series as being practically unwatchable, I actually have to give it credit for a few things despite its larger flaws. Put it in the category of “guilty pleasure.” And, actually, it manages to have a little something for everyone, even those who aren’t horror genre fans. Hit the jump for more.
Hemlock Grove takes place in Pennsylvania, in a town that is host to a number of monsters: werewolves, (possible) vampires, glowing creatures, mind readers and more. Plenty of typical horror tropes are in play, with a plethora of gruesome killings and, of course, sex (the show is really fixated on lesbians, it should be noted).
The real thrust of the series though is the mystery of who (or what) is brutally killing teenage girls in the town. Suspicion immediately falls on a Gypsy boy and werewolf, Peter (Landon Liboiron) who recently moved to the area with his mother (Lili Taylor). The other suspect is handsome but creepy Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgard, yes, brother of Alexander), a rich kid who likes blood and has a weird thing for his cousin, and whose family more or less owns the town and the sinister laboratory that casts a shadow everything around it.
The first episode, directed by Eli Roth, starts things off with a stylish and cinematic tone before subsequent episode resort to more rote visuals. But the series’ languid pace and creeps-at-every turn style is haunting, and reminiscent of Twin Peaks or Buffy. The inaugural episode also feels like any generic teen-focused horror offering (with every cast member being CW-drama levels of attractive) including of course a number of ludicrous circumstances like a girl who believes she’s been impregnated by an angel, as well as a 7 feet tall hybrid creature, Roman’s sister, who gets taunted at school.
Despite some seemingly inspired casting (like Famke Janssen as Roman’s mother, as well as Battlestar Galactica alums Aaron Douglas and Kandyse McClure as the Sheriff and a tracker who lead the investigation into the murders), no one really stands out as being all that great. At least half of it is their fault: accents are all over the place (particularly Janssen’s clipped English tones), and almost everyone looks wooden or uncertain in their scenes. The other problem is the writing. Dear Drama Gods hear our prayers. The dialogue is often painful, although the teenagers do often sounds kind of like real teenagers, which is pretty unbearable in and of itself.
The one thing that Hemlock Grove has going for it is that it won’t be mistaken for Twilight: the gore can be intense, the sex is occasionally explicit and monsters are proper monsters (they don’t glitter). In fact, in the second episode when Peter transforms into a werewolf, something genre fans have seen a hundred times in a hundred different ways, the show actually manages to do something new with it, making it even more gruesome than ever before. The effects are also excellent in that moment, and hold out pretty well throughout.
After watching the first three episodes, I found myself actually looking forward to watching more. I’m not a horror fan, and there are plenty of things terribly camp about Hemlock Grove; but at the same time, there’s something about it that actually feels worth watching. Aside from the profanity and nudity, the show would probably have been really successful on the CW. Take that as you will. For me, the overarching gothic nature and bizarre supernatural twists are enough to keep me engaged. It’s worth checking out, and possibly even worth a binge thanks to Netflix’s model of dropping all of the episodes at once … though like a werewolf emerging from a night of mayhem, you might quickly purge it from your mind afterwards and never admit to it again.