Hemlock Grove Season One REVIEW

Hemlock Grove Season One DVD review.

Hemlock Grove Season One

“Well, it still beats watching crown green bowling.”


Release Date: 21 April 2014
2013 | 18 | 669 minutes | £29.99 (DVD)/£34.99 (Blu-ray)
Distributor: Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment
Creator: Brian McGreevy
Cast: Famke Janssen, Bill Skarsgård, Landon Liboiron, Dougray Scott, Penelope Mitchell

There’s a thin line between the beguiling enigma of Twin Peaks and the dull, pretentious twaddle of Kingdom Hospital, and Hemlock Grove listlessly meanders from one side to the other for a dozen episodes before deciding it wanted to be Lost all along.

One of a growing number of Netflix original dramas, it’s a very different series to the prestige production that preceded it: the critical and commercial hit House Of Cards. This time Netflix went for the jugular with that most bankable of genres: the werewolf vs vampire teen horror romance. But Hemlock Grove is no Twilight with extra gore; for a start, the central relationship is a bromance that doesn’t so much hint at homo-eroticism as act as a neon advert for gay marriage. Plus the vampires are cunningly called Upir, to throw you off the scent and make them seem less corny…

What Netflix appear to have been aiming for was a show it could market on one level, then gleefully pervert in the actual episodes, in a move designed to get the social networks buzzing: a show with mysteries to dissect; bare chests to lust over; weirdness to ensure much “WTF?!”-ing; and gore to get the guys going, “Cool!” Bringing on board Eli Roth to direct the pilot and executive produce was just another part of the internet-friendly plan.

The crowdpleasing werewolf transformation in episode two is almost a microcosm for the show. Roman Geoffrey (Bill Skarsgård) – a rich pretty boy with lips like a snapdragon – watches gypsy pretty boy Peter Rumancek (Landon Liboiron) strip naked in preparation for the full moon. This is significant, because they should be natural enemies; not just because of the whole Upir vs wolf thing, but also because Roman lives in a mansion and Peter lives in a mobile home. Yet here they are, having only just met, revealing themselves to each other.

Then Peter changes. It’s a stunning special effects sequence, and gut-churningly visceral. He doesn’t so much transform; rather, the wolf explodes through his skin, then eats the bloody remains, eyes and all. Top marks for creative gore, but it does leave you wondering how on earth the transformation back takes place? Notably, we’re never shown that, though Roman does describe it (with a misty look in his eye) as “beautiful”. Like a lot about Hemlock Grove, it looks great but makes little sense. You’re not supposed to ask too many questions. The characters certainly don’t – and if they do, they rarely push for an answer.

Like Twin Peaks, the series starts with a murder, in this case on the night of a full moon. It’s pretty obvious that a werewolf is responsible, and it’s not Peter, because he’s well-heeled. So Peter and the borderline-psychopathic Roman (he likes self-harming during sex and fancies his cousin to a stalkerish degree) form an uneasy alliance to discover the identity of the rogue wolf (clue: by episode five there’s one character who clearly has no other dramatic function within the story).

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. There’s also Roman’s MILF of a mum (Famke Janssen, channelling Morticia Addams), who’s sleeping with the brother of her dead husband (she killed him), whose evil research company is doing some experiments that apparently resurrected Roman’s dead sister as a bald, seven-foot-tall Frankenstein’s monster with mismatched eyes and cheeks that glow blue when she blushes. There’s an attempted takeover of the company looming. There’s a crazy doctor who dictates all his thoughts into a dictaphone, complete with exquisite punctuation. A girl who fancies herself as writer ends up kissing a corpse and going a bit strange. A crazy man escapes from a psychiatric ward, wibbling about the Ouroborus, the snake that eats itself.

So Hemlock Grove is clearly aiming for odd, but after setting all this up in the first couple of episodes, it never becomes any odder. Any questions raised remain unanswered until midway through the penultimate episode, after which the show goes into flashback and revelation overdrive. As with the finale of Lost, some answers satisfy, some are disappointingly banal, and some things remain frustratingly unexplained.

In-between, not a lot else happens, apart from the occasional bit of (impressively icky) gore and Roman going increasingly bonkers. He even has a dream episode which – despite a few promising weird moments – ends up being rather prosaic and pointless.

The series undoubtedly has its high points. Aside from the gore, Famke Janssen and Dougray Scott make a fascinatingly watchable odd couple. Skarsgård and Liboiron both give gutsy, edgy performances, bringing sensitivity to two characters who could easily be vile and irritating. Peter’s sassy cousin Destiny (a con artist and witch) is a blast. The final couple of episodes have some fine moments of gothic melodrama. And the mystery of what’s going on at the research lab is interesting – arguably more so than the murders.

It’s odd, though, that a show specifically designed for “binge-viewing” should spend so much time going round in circles in its middle stretches. The season could well have done with losing four or five episodes and tightening up, because unlike Twin Peaks there aren’t enough interesting supporting characters to explore to justify the padding.

Season two is coming. It’s only ten episodes long. So maybe Netflix realised this too.

Extras:

The DVD release has zilch. The Blu-ray (rated) has seven short on-set featurettes (around three minutes each), covering subjects such as the making of the transformation, the shooting of the central werewolf killing, and the issue of “what makes a monster”, plus three trailers for the series.

Dave Golder twitter.com/DaveGolder

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