The best thing I can say about the premiere of Netflix’s new original series Hemlock Grove is that it is unfocused. Is it a murder mystery, science fiction, horror or fantasy/supernatural? One of the problems I have with the series is that I think it is trying to be a little bit of everything and winds up being nothing noteworthy at all. It jumps back and forth between the present and past, quickly introduces a wide variety of characters, some of whom are obviously not completely human. Hemlock Grove goes to great lengths to stand out from its Twilight-like brethren but the show still gives off that been there done that vibe.
The episode begins with the brutal murder of a local teenage girl named Brooke Bluebell (Lorenza Izzo), who is not the stereotypical high school cheerleader she seems to be at first glance. Not only does she appear to be having a sexual relationship with a female science teacher, but she also has some connection to Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgard), a member of the town’s most prominent family. On the way to a liaison with Banksy, an apparent nickname or code that Brooke and her teacher developed to help maintain secrecy, the girl is viciously attacked a killed by some sort of animal, presumably a werewolf. This isn’t your MTV Teen Wolf variety of the beast. Although the creature doesn’t appear in the premier episode, what remains of Brooke points to something more closely resembling the bloodthirsty wolf in The Howling.
After Brooke’s murder, the episode flashes back to “earlier in the summer,” when Lynda Rumancek (Lily Taylor) and her son Peter (Landon Liboiron) arrive in Hemlock Grove. They’ve inherited a run-down trailer from a relative who, judging by the vials of fluid found by Lynda, was into something nefarious. Their presence is immediately noticed by Christina Wendall (Freya Tingley). She identifies Peter as a gypsy, which in Hemlock Grove, is considered one, if not, the lowest of the low on the social ladder. Christina also asks whether he worships the devil after spotting pentagram carved into a nearby tree and questions if he is a werewolf as well. Not really standard questions when getting to know the new kid in town.
In another more affluent home, Olivia Godfrey (Famke Janssen) wakes her son Roman. Her look and demeanor is reminiscent of Morticia Addams meets Michelle Pfieffer’s Elizabeth Collins Stoddard from Dark Shadows. Her accent is indistinct or more specifically nonsensical with the exception of the occasional British lilt that creeps in every now and again. In another flashback, viewers learn that Olivia’s husband JR (Paul Popowich) has discovered his bride to be some incarnation of evil and kills himself as a result. JR’s brother Norman (Dougray Scott) is head of the family business, a stand-in patriarch of his brother’s family as well as the head of his own. Norman’s daughter Letha (Penelope Mitchell) aside from being perky and blonde is very close to her brooding, degenerate cousin.
The first day of school begins, and there is an odd, non-verbal interaction between Peter and Roman. Even though it is the first time they have laid eyes on one another, there is a feeling of familiarity between them, as if they know each other’s darkest secrets. Peter runs into Christina and is affable, but she is dismissive; far from the curious creature she was at their initial meeting. Roman witnesses their interaction with interest. Things only get stranger for Peter. As he stands at his locker, a large, hulking girl comes wheezing down the hallway. Her combat boots shuffle along the floor. Her face isn’t visible because she hangs her head low and her hair acts as a shield. For a brief moment, it seems as if a light is glowing around her face. A few girls make fun of her Frankenstein-like gait but she seems impervious to their impression. She is warmly greeted by her brother, who happens to be Roman. Later, the audience gets to see that she is severely deformed.
In yet another flashback, we learn her name is Shelley (Olivia Boivin), and she is anything but daddy’s little girl. He thinks this abomination is his punishment for bringing Olivia, who he no longer believes to be a woman, into their family. JR confides in his brother that he could find no evidence of Olivia’s lineage, not one single relative. He asks Norman to help him destroy her, but Norman dismisses his brother’s suspicions and suggests he come to stay with his family for a while. JR then says to his brother that he knows Norman is sleeping with Olivia.
Hemlock Grove is dark, gory and salacious but not in a good way like HBO’s True Blood and not in a campy, funny way like Burton’s Dark Shadows. The show borrows from Rosemary’s Baby, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Carnivale, Stephen King and Ray Bradbury. I have no doubt the writers will develop their own mythology and that the mystic town of Hemlock Grove will strive to not adhere to the vampire, werewolf and witch trifecta. The show may develop a cult following for those who think TV shows that fall into the horror/fantasy genre are too G-rated, too watered down to appeal to the masses. But the bottom line is that the show just isn’t good. And no amount of gimmicks can change that fact. The creators obviously tried hard to cram the premiere with enough oddities and intrigue to entice viewers to eagerly devour the next episode. Perhaps, the only good news about Hemlock Grove is that if it manages to garner any fans, they can watch all 13 episodes in one sitting.