Friday, May 31, 2013

Hemlock Grove

Unless you live under a rock, you are probably aware that Netflix is getting into original programming. They've got an engrossing political drama with House of Cards and a cult-favorite comedy with new episodes of Arrested Development. But how are they going to capture that ever-elusive young male demographic?

Let's see...I know! Monsters, teenagers, and boobs!

And credit where it's due, Hemlock Grove is actually way more than just monsters, teenagers, and boobs. It has a depth of storytelling that frankly surprised me. But it's still kind of derivative. Not of cheesy horror slasher flicks, but of the whackadoo twisty scariness that has become its own horror subgenre. I'm talking Twin Peaks and American Horror Story style horror--where you have to pack as much "WTF" and "Huh?" into an episode as you can. Hemlock Grove has that part down. WTF truly abound.

In case you aren't familiar with what I'm talking about, here are the plot basics (no real spoilers here):
In the shadows of a rusted Pennsylvania steel town, the mangled body of a teenage girl is discovered. As they hunt for a monster among them, rumors mount and many of the eccentric residents become suspects, from the newly arrived gypsy family to the wealthy Godfrey clan. In the twisted world of Hemlock Grove, everyone hides a dark secret. From director Eli Roth (“Hostel”) comes a chilling supernatural series based on Brian McGreevy’s novel.
The two main characters are both teenage guys; one is the recently arrived in town, Peter Rumancek, whom everyone instantly believes is a werewolf because his index finger is longer than his middle finger. Yes, really. Also, he and his Mom are gypsies, so there is a lot of gypsy racism. Yes, really that too. Side-note: is being a full-on gypsy still, like, a thing? That people know enough about to be racist about? Because this is news to me. Anyway, the other main character is Roman Godfrey, the rich, lazy, and weirdly fetal looking heir to the Godfrey empire which is currently run by his mother, Olivia Godfrey. Oh, Roman has a thing for blood and is saved from being a horrible person due to the love, kindness, and fierce protection he shows for his giant, mute, possibly part-cyborg younger sister.

Cue the "huh?" comments we talked about earlier.

That's Roman. Did I mention he's played by a Skarsgard? Buzz Feed gives him 8 skars on their Skarsgard hotness ranking. Please check out that link btw. It's amazing.

And don't let the Eli Roth name check turn you off--there is some gore here, but it's nowhere

near the torture-porn levels that his movies are known for. Most of it is telegraphed and you can close your eyes, hide behind the Pillow of Fear (PoF). For the most part, you aren't going to see anything worse than you would on all those network crime procedurals. 

I think it's fair to say that Hemlock Grove is basically Diet Twin Peaks (tastes great, less filling). There's a lot of similarities: set in a small remote town filled with obviously crazy people, supernatural stuff going on that people seem to accept as normal, a large cast of teenagers and adults whose lives all intersect, an out of state investigator, and a central murder mystery that drives the action.

Or should drive the action. Because the problem with Hemlock Grove is that when things are NOT focused on the big question: "who is killing all these young girls?" then things tend to meander. And wander. And become unfocused. Just like these sentences! Sure, there are other questions and mysteries at work here, and I was actually surprised we got as many answers as we did, but the hunt for the killer should be the main focus of the season. Things don't really pick up until the third episode when Dr. Clementine Chasseur, an investigator from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (yes, really--what, was the FBI busy?), arrives in town and starts doing some digging. But then she's in and out of the story and it's not clear where things are heading.

Having said all that, there was a good amount of resolution in the final episodes and I devoured the entire series over a weekend. If there is a season 2, I'll watch it.  It may not have the cultural impact of Twin Peaks, or be as scary as American Horror Story, but there was enough in Hemlock Grove to keep me coming back for more. If you're a fan of the genre, I say give it a try. Otherwise, you might want to look for something else for your summer viewing.

They're so polite in Pennsylvania!

1 comment:

Arsenic Pie said...

The Skarsgaard scale is like the opposite of the John Mayer ugliness scale.