***This review Does contain spoilers ***
Earlier this month, Netflix premiered its newest original series, which is based upon Brian McGreevy’s novel of the same name. McGreevy developed his novel for television alongside Lee Shipman before teaming up with director, Eli Roth and TV veteran Mark Verheiden to bring the story to life at Netflix.
All 13 episodes of “Hemlock Grove” Season 1 are currently available on Netflix. But before you dive into the show, this preview should give you everything need to know about “Hemlock Grove.” For starters, Hemlock Grove is a small town in Pennsylvania that was once widely known for it’s steel mill that was owned by the powerful Godfrey family. In the present day, the steel mill has been shut down for years, but the Godfrey family has since moved on to become the owners of White Tower, a cutting edge biotech facility.
In the opening moments of the series, a young girl named Brooke Bluebell is savagely murdered near the old steel mill. And suspicion quickly falls upon Roman Godfrey and Peter Rumancek, two teens who form an unlikely alliance to get to the truth behind Brooke’s murder and clear their names.
But in Hemlock Grove, monsters are very real. And not everyone wears their monster on the outside…
I can’t help but find it funny that everyone that has written a review has been comparing it to other shows. If you go into this show expecting it to be like House of Cards, you are not going to like it. Same with comparing it to other Sci-fi TV series’. It’s comparing Apples and Oranges.
You have to give credit where credit is due, Hemlock Grove is unique, it isn’t a generic or cliché TV show likes we’ve all seen one hundred times. The writing may not be the best and at times it can be quite confusing.
Give the show a chance, it’s not as much of a “horror” as IMDb and other sites peg it to be. It’s really not that scary. It’s an interesting show to say the least.
For someone who has both read the book and the pre-comic to the book. I enjoyed both. At first glance of the trailer for the TV series (which came out around a year after the book was released, making it feel like the book never really got a chance to stew or circulate in pop culture), I was a tad disappointed. It looked like your typical high school supernatural drama (which does catch my interest but never retains it). The trailer did a bad job, because thanks to my overwhelming curiosity, I still held out for the series premiere on Netflix and it was HARDLY your typical high school supernatural drama: the world of teenagers in the series was actually REALISTIC. Here’s the lowdown:
For one, almost every character was relatable. Even if I didn’t like a character, by the end of their journey, I at least understood them. Additionally, while the setting and plot for the story isn’t always realistic, characters all have reasonable reactions. The best part, in my opinion, is that each character does in at least one completely unpredictable direction, and you still feel for them. This is because almost every character is given time to shine.
There’s another thing: this series is very unpredictable, odd, and lets the viewer play detective. For instance:in the series premiere, our Gypsy kid Peter is having a dream about Jelly fish swimming in the sky. By the end of the episode, Peter looks up into the sky to see luminaria being set free at a vigil held for a girl that was brutally murdered. The imagery of this and Peter’s dream is remarkably similar. Then the viewer can make an exciting connection- because Peter had his dream before the girl was killed, we find out that Peter is psychic. This was subtle, as are most of these other similar occurrences, and viewers who are looking for an easy watch WILL be confused by this show. I have read many reviews already that complain about this very element: the show will NOT spell things out for you. The show is very quirky and unconventional, yet it isn’t entirely nonsensical. It is not for the close-minded or the witless.
The show also pulls on the heart strings- I can’t remember the last time a TV show or movie has had a friendship between two teens that was actually sincere, and this is exactly what Peter and rich boy Roman Godfrey have.
The technical aspects of the show work as well. The dialogue is very unique, and while some may find it unrealistic, delivered by the actors in a very convincing manner. The cinematography is wonderful as well, capturing the mood through use of various angles, more so than color (Which seems to be the focus of the new and “improved” “edgy” Hollywood). The special effects, while in CGI (I’m a bit of a snob with CGI), don’t play it cheap, such as in the werewolf transformations. While obviously CGI, they are graphic and show you HOW it happens rather than a two second clothes ripping *HULK SMASH!* transformation. Props to the two actors portraying the transformations as well, they made it look incredibly painful. The music was exceptional too, and really aided the mood of the scenes. In the climax of Peter, Roman and Letha’s story, for instance, this dissonant, disturbing, helpless sounding music played after Peter’s face was ripped off, as he staggered around the room with the characters screaming for him.
There were a few flaws or strains I felt ran through the series as a whole, though. Olivia and Norman’s storyline dragged on a bit for me, but was still tolerable that I wouldn’t fast forward. Peter’s mom bugged me at certain points where it felt like she should be more concerned about her son, such as when his girlfriend died and you could clearly see he was trying to mourn. I guess that’s just her character. The last couple of episodes felt unnatural to the rest. The death of Letha Godfrey and the aftermath felt like too much, but perhaps the show was giving you a healthy dose of reality- in the words of Clementine: “God doesn’t want you to be happy, he wants you to be strong.”
The show had plenty of philosophical musings and ideas that made you think. It never chose a side, but left it up to the viewer to decide who was right. Characters you love have to make truly difficult decisions. Characters you love can betray the viewer. Characters you hate do something you may value. Characters may make you question your beliefs and values. I know I started to get a bit more interested in Gypsy culture after reading the book…
Overall, this series is both an emotional and intellectual treat. It is a fresh spin on a genre tired by current frivolous, hormone-pandering duds. It combines elements from the mystery genre, horror genre, romance genre, drama genre and the more artsy genre.
Kudos to Eli Roth, Brian McGreevy, the actors, the whole crew and Netflix for bringing to life such an awesome series.