To say I have been waiting for Hemlock Grove would be an outright lie. While it has been vigorously advertised on Netflix itself and all over the internet to those that sell adspace, I was genuinely surprised to find out it had actually been released last night. What was for me going to be a night of drinking and Asian horror movies turned into a night of "What the heck is going on?" while watching the 13-episode new Netflix original series.
Hemlock Grove is based off a book of the same name by author Brian McGreevy, however viewers will probably more familiar with the director and executive producer Eli Roth. He is the director responsible for what is known among the horror community as "torture porn". While I despise gore for the sake of gore, I kind of have an odd love affair with the movies of Eli Roth. The Hostel series shows everything that is wrong with modern western horror these days, but Cabin Fever is probably my biggest guilty pleasure movie ever. I mean Rider Strong and flesh eating diseases, come on. Knowing he was responsible for those two gora-a-ploozas you can imagine what Hemlock Grove is going to be.
Hemlock Grove is essentially Netflix's answer to every popular television show out right now. It is like True Blood, Vampire Diaries, Supernatural, American Horror Story, and Grimm. Except you combine all those, roll them around in a little extra sex and gore, and call it Hemlock Grove.
I'm not sure if this is how the book is written or it just seems this way because of the directional choices of Eli Roth, but they have found the perfect recipe for an inexplicably addictive television show. You add some sort of supernatural who-dun-it, add a character that you know is probably responsible, add a handsome young rouge with thick eyebrows, chin stubble, and messy longish hair, and open so many questions in the first episode you leave your audience so irrevocably confused that they have to have the answers. Of course, you will refuse to give most of the answers till the last few episodes, because that is how television roles. Sure, you pretend to give answers through some vague philosophical bull (of which, there is a lot) your writers spewed forth, but of course that just leaves more questions.
I honestly really hated the first episode, it was all a bunch of rich people doing whatever they wanted and being jerks. However, then they started to open up all these questions like why that chick has such a huge eye and what the heck is an upir, and I ended up staying for 13 episodes.
Like all of today's popular shows, the series begins with the over-the-top vicious guts and blood everywhere murder of a pretty young girl by some sort of animal. Coincidentally, this happens just when a devilishly handsome young rogue with chin stubble and permanently messed hair moves to town with his mother. His name is Peter Rumancek, a gypsy. Everyone begins to think he is a werewolf and responsible for her murder. He is joined by the rich and rebellious young son of a huge biomedical group named Roman Godfrey and they team up to solve this mystery.
Of course, no one in this town is all that normal, Roman can use is mind to make people do what he wants, his cousin Letha is carrying the product of immaculate conception via an angel, Peter is indeed a werewolf, Roman's sister is a giantess with a huge eye and skin that glows blue, and Roman's mother is well...deadly without ever being seen doing anything deadly.
Probably the biggest star in this whole series is Famke Janssen, who plays Roman's mother Olivia Godfrey. You may remember her from roles such as Evelyn in House on Haunted Hill, Ava on Nip/Tuck, and Elizabeth in The Faculty. When you think back to all her performances, you then begin to realize that Famke Janssen only has one character. Cold hearted, possibly evil, b*tch and that is what she plays in this show too. At least in Nip/Tuck she mixed it up by being a post-op transsexual.
I also want to talk a little about racism in this show. Hemlock Grove frequently brings up racism against gypsies. It is something you do not see often in media anymore, gypsy racism. I kind of feel like it was put in this show as a reminder to young people saying, "Don't forget! We still hate gypsies!" It just sort of seemed like the writer was using it in that way to make himself seem knowledgeable of the struggle of a people without really making the racism affect anyone. Sure everyone is all like "damn gypsies" but they do not seem to actually CARE that they are living in the richy-rich neighborhood of Hemlock Grove.
All the bad aside, there is one part I genuinely liked in Hemlock Grove and will never stop liking, the werewolf transformation scene. It was disgusting, it was detailed, and it was disturbingly well thought out. The way the flesh just kind of rips off his body and the fact that his eyes pop out to make room for wolf eyes was masterful, I will admit. It is a little gross that the wolf eats the flesh that just came off its body, but whatever.
The problem I have with the werewolf scene is that there are people out there looking for a werewolf, and from the transformation scene, he leaves a huge mess after transforming. Certainly someone would have noticed splatters of blood or bits of flesh plopped onto the ground. It was just something the writer did not think out, I guess.
Overall, I wouldn't completely dismiss Hemlock Grove as unwatchable. Like I said, it really draws you in with the need for you to have the answers to questions and it does deliver them in time. It's only 13 one hour long episodes, so it is not like it's going to waste several months of your time getting the answers either. However, overall it just seems to be lacking the substance it was going for. It tries to make you consider all this philosophical thought, but just falls flat. It doesn't have much in the way of comedy, but if you are into brooding "pretty" people hunched over cigarettes and booze (most of which are underage) trying to understand their drama of being not quite human, then this is probably going to be a fun watch for you. If you like mysteries in general, then this will probably be an engaging watch for you. If you like disturbing imagery, ho-boy is this going to be good for you. However, if you are looking for substance and intrigue like Netflix's previous original series like House of Cards, you will be left wanting.