Hemlock Grove is Eli Roth’s first foray into episodic television, and Netflix’s second original series. After the fabulous House of Cards, I am sad to say Hemlock Grove is a truly forgettable experience.
Best described as Twin Peaks meets Dark Shadows, Hemlock Grove is a near-plotless story of the monsters - literal and figurative - in a small, strange town. Like Twin Peaks, Hemlock starts with the murder of a high school coed, but the focus quickly turns to the dark (and large) cast of characters. There is Olivia Godfrey (Famke Janssen, the biggest star in this cast), something of the town matriarch: wealthy, manipulative, and widowed. Her children are Roman, a spoiled 17-year-old with an enormous chip on his shoulder who may or may not know he is a vampire; and Shelley, a 15-year-old-ish mute giant with a deformed face held together with some kind of super-secret biotech. Roman’s human side comes out when he is with Shelley, of whom he is fiercely protective, and his cousin, Letha, with whom he is unnaturally close to. Letha becomes pregnant under mysterious circumstances - she believes it was an angel. Letha’s father, Norman, is Olivia’s brother-in-law. He is less financially set than his brother, and is having an affair with Olivia. New to town are Peter Rumancek and his mother Lynda. They are stereotypical gypsies, who get by on theft and grifting. Roman befriends Peter, and is especially fascinated by the fact that he is a werewolf. The werewolf rumor was spread by strange, timid “novelist” Christina Wendall; she had no way of knowing that the rumor was true.
Those characters pretty much make up the “plot:” watching them interact, discovering their dark secrets, uncovering shadowy pasts. The problem is the characters are not likable; they are barely interesting. Olivia has this weird, off-putting British accent that is distracting; Roman is robotic; Letha is almost too naive to live; and Peter always has an answer for everything - and the answer always has to do with gypsy lore. When the characters interact, it is wooden, like each actor is doing their part separately, then mixed together in post.
I will say one thing that impressed me: the effects. Unfortunately, in the three episodes I saw, there was only one effect, but it was truly exceptional. In the second episode, you see Peter transform into a werewolf and it is the most original and visceral representation of a werewolf transformation I have ever seen. It is truly impressive. Of course, the next day, I was telling someone about this “amazing werewolf transformation” I had just seen - and it took me a good five minutes to remember where I saw it. Not a good sign.
All 13 episodes of Hemlock Grove will be available to stream on Netflix at 12:01am on April 19th.