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'Hemlock Grove' Goes for Ominous, Lapses into Tedious
April 25, 2013  | By Ed Bark  | 50 comments
It too often plods or meanders. Vomit is spewed in abundance when principal characters aren’t inhaling either cigarette smoke or various body parts. There’s a sense throughout that a long-term investment will at best yield the equivalent of a penny slot machine payoff.

And yet I watched the whole damned 13-episode first season of Hemlock Grove before making a final judgment. It went up in its entirety last Friday (April 19) on Netflix, which earlier made a very favorable first impression with its Americanized version of House of Cards.

It’s a new way of looking at things — and very time-consuming as well. And if House of Cards turned out to be a pleasure, Hemlock Grove is more of a dutiful slog. But it does have moments of spine-tingling intensity, with Episode 10 a powerhouse in that respect.

Hemlock Grove’s leading man is horror-meister Eli Roth, whose previous behind-the-camera credits include not-for-the-faint-of-heart outings such as Hostel, Hostel II and Cabin Fever.

As with an unsettling great majority of TV blood-fests, the series principally preys on young women. So did the early episodes of Fox’s The Following and NBC’s Hannibal. In this case, a terribly mutilated coed corpse puts the small Pennsylvania town of Hemlock Grove on full alert. It’s initially believed that only a four-legged animal could do such damage. But what if it were a werewolf? And what if a new-in-town gypsy duo — high schooler Peter Rumancek and his mom, Lynda (Landon Liboiron, Lili Taylor, above left) — were capable of such horror?

“You’re weird, and kind of mean. But good material,” aspiring kid novelist Christina Wendall (Freya Tingley) tells Peter outside his suitably ramshackle trailer home. She’s got part of that right.

Adapted from the 2012 novel by Brian McGreevy and filmed in all-purpose, more cost-efficient Canada, Hemlock Grove slowly weaves in a menagerie of off-kilter characters.

Famke Janssen (left) gets top billing as domineering, evil-seeping Olivia Godrey, heir to a mysterious, very guarded medical research facility that towers over the town after the old Godfrey Steel Mill went under. She has two kids, the constantly belligerent Roman (Bill Skarsgård, top right, with Liboiron) and his mute, stooped, deformed younger sister, Shelley (Nicole Boivin), who’s the height of a pro basketball center and has one eye with a pupil the size of an egg yolk.

But Shelley’s otherwise a good kid, absorbing the taunts of schoolmates while Roman shows a softer side by protecting her. It helps when you’re equipped with a steely stare that can make people do whatever you want. And Roman’s only collateral damage is a relatively minor nose bleed perhaps exacerbated by frequent coke-sniffing.

There’s also psychiatrist Norman Godfrey (Dougray Scott), brother of Olivia’s deceased husband J.R., who killed himself. Scott in particular never seems to get his role right on any level, particularly when laughing mechanically in the way a hurry-up-and-act soap star might do. Norman gets prototypically grim-faced, however, upon learning that his daughter, Letha (Penelope Mitchell), is pregnant and believes an angel is the father.

Roman and outcast Peter eventually form an uneasy and at times combustible alliance in hopes of tracking down whoever’s killing the young women of Hemlock Grove.

“I get this feeling sometimes, like something really important is about to happen,” Roman says ominously. This series regularly takes too long in getting to something even halfway important, although its pulse is quickened somewhat by the arrival in Episode 3 of Clementine Chausser (Kandyse McClure, right). She’s a religious-minded, lesbian hunter of otherworldly beings masquerading as a Fish and Wildlife Service agent.

Clementine in effect is the Agent Dale Cooper of Hemlock Grove, at one point asserting, “I’m not here for your coffee and pie” in an obvious nod to Twin Peaks. She also dubs Roman and Peter “the Hardy boys,” although a more current reference would be to the demon hunters of CW’s long-running Supernatural.

Flashbacks fill in some of the principal characters’ gaps, but an overall languorous pace repeatedly tests a viewer’s staying power. Executive producer Roth and company keep going for ominous but too often lapse into tedious. Some of the prolonged dialogues in Hemlock Grove sustain interest and advance the story. But episodes repeatedly bog down when the cutting room floor would have been a much better option.

The overall mood music is effectively eerie at times and over-bearing at others. And in the end, Hemlock Grove sort of answers some Big Questions while also making one’s head hurt with some of its bizarro tangles and turns.

The producers hope to do a Season 2, and Hemlock Grove almost assuredly will have more appeal for younger viewers than all those older adults on House of Cards did. Those who go the distance might find themselves getting the most mileage out of the characters Peter, Shelley and Clementine, all of whom are appealing in distinctly different ways.

There’s ample gore as well, with a transformational scene in Episode 2 about as stark and good as it gets in the horror genre. Hemlock Grove overall falls well short of anything resembling sustained brilliance. Still, each episode may well push just enough buttons to pull you along to the next one.


Read more by Ed Bark at unclebarky.com

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Am I touchy about my ago? Probably. Being 59 and part of older folk. I love Hemlock Grove. Please think about what made you think older folk would not enjoy Hemlock Grove as much as younger fans.
May 28, 2013   |  Reply
Really liked this show. I thought there was too many sex scenes that seemed to be just for the sake of sensationalism & time would have been better spent better developing the plot, but definitely hoping for a season 2!
May 24, 2013   |  Reply
i loved the show
May 23, 2013   |  Reply
Zachary K
Definitely loved the show. Addicted from the start, couldn't stop watching it. Hopefully a season 2 will spring up!
May 22, 2013   |  Reply
I really loved this show. I think this guy is being a bit harsh.
May 22, 2013   |  Reply
Shawn D
I love how critical everyone is of this show. I personally love the way they weave the story and who was cast. I'm not saying necessarily that it is the best tv show ever made though it is the first show, in years, to catch my attention and leave me chomping at the bit.
May 22, 2013   |  Reply
I Loved IT!!!! Can not wait for season 2 and I really hope they make one!
May 22, 2013   |  Reply
Love this ! I cannot wait til season 2 .
May 21, 2013   |  Reply
Love this series! Cannot wait for season two to start! Usually films hated by "critics " are the ones I find to be great flicks....
May 19, 2013   |  Reply
Love! Agree on more acting classes...sh***tt
May 18, 2013   |  Reply
So, I think it's worthy of at least a B. I really dislike vampires and werewolves, but I'm loving this.With only 2 more episodes to go, I'm looking on the internet trying to spy if there will be a season 2. I think some of the characters need a few acting classes, and the camera man was cheap, but that doesn't change the fact that it's really gripping. I like.
May 17, 2013   |  Reply
Boring initially but was deeply engrossed before halfway through the season, loved it in a twisted way.
May 14, 2013   |  Reply
Loved it!!! Can't wait for season 2!!!
May 14, 2013   |  Reply
Sissy Porter
Love the show..please keep it going. Cant wait for more! Thank you!
May 14, 2013   |  Reply
Amazing show and cast!!! I believe it was a great success! My boyfriend and i could not stop watching it and are really hoping for season 2!!!!
May 13, 2013   |  Reply
Landon Libiron (Peter) sounds a lot like actor Joe Anderson. Does it seem that in 21st century Hollywood all male werewolves have the name Peter?
I love how Lily Taylor's character brings sanity and sensibility to the insanely wacky world that is Hemlock.
May 14, 2013
Bring back the God damn show its to good to lose it now
May 13, 2013   |  Reply
Justine -I believe you meant "too good to lose."
May 14, 2013
let me just say, i am 51 years old and grew up reading classic gothic novels (Bram Stoker, Poe, Mary Shelley etc) as well as contemporary horror (Anne Rice, Stephen King etc). I'm currently halfway into the 13 episodes and loving every bizarre moment of it! the main characters are intriguing and the whole mood of the show is mysterious and creepy gothic, exactly what i look for in a story based on the supernatural!! i am totally mesmerized and only stop watching between episodes because i need to live my life. Please give us a season 2!!! BTW, i think the casting is PERFECT!!!!
May 13, 2013   |  Reply
I couldnt agree with you more! The creepy gothic feel of the show was great. I love the dark brooding tone it was mysterious and quite frankly refreshing compared to all the teeny bopper vamp/wolf stuff out. It drew me in had enough twists in the end to satiate me after rushing through 13 episodes left a lot to be fleshed out in season 2 :)
May 20, 2013
Amazing show love season2 asap please !!!!!!!!!!
May 13, 2013   |  Reply
Amazing show love season2 asap please !!!!!!!!!!
May 13, 2013   |  Reply
This show had interesting peaking moments. I found it climaxed too early (the AMAZING werewolf transformation, best I've seen to date) and then sort of seemed to fizzle out at the end. Overall though, I found the series to be a breath of fresh air from the norm and globally entertaining in its execution of scifi/horror characteristics. Granted, it's not in Game of Thrones league but I found it equally as enjoyable as House of Cards, and hope to see a season 2. And for people who are bashing the show after watching all 13 episodes, there was obviously a reason you continued to watch it to the very end, so at least give it recognition that it kept you hooked for that long. Though who could blame you? With the whole season readily available on Netflix, it's hard not to get reeled in!
May 13, 2013   |  Reply
Lea- I was disappointed by the series, but kept watching hoping for answers and a reasonable (& plausible) ending. Many answers were not revealed well or seemed rushed by episode 13. But in my confusion, am I right that the Godfrey family have incestual tendancies? Roman & his mother too close at times; Roman & his cousin (way too close for comfort); Olivia & her husband's brother. What is with this family?
I saw the reveal in the finale became evident by episode 3-4. I am disappointed by the mythology of the show and find it hard to believe, at times.
I find the younger generation is in to the extremes (of living) such as of bearing skin just because for the sake of showing skin, not because it adds to the story.
May 14, 2013
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