REVIEW: HEMLOCK GROVE – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: FAMKE JANSSEN, DOUGRAY SCOTT, BILL SKARSGARD, LANDON LIBOIRON, PNELOPE MITCHELL, LILI TAYLOR / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Netflix have been rightly applauded for leading the way in the new TV world of original drama commissions streamed and made available en bloc for viewers to devour in a binge session or to explore and discover at their own pace – all away from the headlights of traditional TV broadcast. Shows like House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black and the resurrected comedy Arrested Development stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best Network TV can offer. The jury, however, is surely still out in respect of its dog’s dinner horror series Hemlock Grove which, across its first thirteen-episode season, tries too hard to touch too many bases and appeal to too many diverse tastes to establish its own tone and its own style. It’s a wildly schizophrenic series, often unevenly written and with some performances best described as eccentric.
The core storyline of the show sees a Gypsy Mom and son family unit move to the remote, slightly eerie town of Hemlock Grove, a town down on its luck in more ways than one. Rundown and dreary, Hemlock Grove isn’t even a nice place to visit, let alone live in – especially as it seems to be populated by a random assortment of werewolves, vampires, ersatz Frankenstein’s monsters and an assortment of slightly askew oddballs with peculiar and largely unconvincing accents (hello, Famke). In many ways the ingredients for an interesting horror stew are all present and correct, yet somewhere along the line the recipe’s been lost because the show, which occasionally generates a flicker of interest here and there, never really comes to life, it never really finds its feet and sometimes even ends up being a little bit boring and something of a chore to sit through.
The problem seems to be that Hemlock Grove doesn’t really know what it wants to be. The killing of saucy teenager Brooke Bluebell at the end of episode one suggests that the show might be trying for a Twin Peaks vibe, the finger of suspicion pointing at moody gypsy newcomer Peter Rumancek (Liboiron) who, at the end of episode two, transforms vividly and grotesquely into a werewolf and thus sends the show spinning off into entirely new directions. At virtually a stroke Hemlock Grove decides to try to be all things to all genre fans; a little bit of extreme American Horror Story gore-porn here, a touch of True Blood monster shenanigans there, a bit of Vampire Diaries teen angst just around the corner. Inevitably the show becomes uneven and clumsy and by the halfway mark – if you still stick with it – it’s hard not to conclude that this is being made up completely on the hoof and that it won’t be long before the kitchen sink turns up just for the sake of completeness.
As a Netflix binge-watch show Hemlock Grove doesn’t really cut the mustard as, with audiences now spoilt for choice, it’s easy to tune out after an episode or two as it isn’t yet compelling enough to demand continued viewing and would probably, ironically, benefit from the established episode-a-week broadcast model. On DVD it’s a slightly better bet and those who are able to persevere and wade through the stodgy mire of the first few episodes might find their patience rewarded as they become familiar with the show’s cavalcade of freaks, curiosities and odd plot contrivances. In the end there isn’t enough tasty meat for thirteen episodes, hence the creak and sag of the narrative, and Netflix has wisely ordered a leaner ten-episode second season which might create a sharper and more focussed series. But there’s still the nagging feeling that the damage has been done and that the mistakes and misfires of the first series have scuppered this Eli Roth-produced project for good. Time will tell…
Extras: Behind the scenes / Making of featurette