Weird can be a good thing, but like all things it should come in moderation. For Netflix’s original series “Hemlock Grove” that seemed to be the opposite of their philosophy, emphasizing all things bizarre. From the main character’s blood fetish to the fact that he impregnated his own cousin, I could barely watch the show without feeling dirty. The only thing keeping it from resembling something that would run on the SyFy channel was the $45 million budget, giving ‘Hemlock Grove” a bit more of a professional feel.
“Hemlock Grove” was Netflix’s second attempt at an original series. Directed by Eli Roth, known for his horror flicks “Hostel” and “Hostel 2,” I expected a good horror/ supernatural drama. I became a recluse for the weekend, marathoning the show for 13 hours, eager to get into the world of Hemlock Grove. But after completing just the first episode, as credits rolled across the screen, I asked myself: What the hell did I just watch?
The show’s opening scene begins with protagonist Roman Godfrey, seventeen- year-old heir to the Godfrey family empire of medical research facilities in the small town of Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania. He is seductively eating an ice cream cone which actually just comes across as creepy, before hooking up with a prostitute in an X-rated sex scene. This promptly had me moving to watch the show in a different room than the rest of my family.
The real premise of the show is not even brought up until 30 minutes in, when a high school girl becomes the first victim of a mysterious “animal attack.” She is killed in a gruesome, gag-worthy scene complete with acting that would make Kristen Stew- art look like an Oscar winner.
The rest of the season mainly follows the Godfrey family and Peter Rumancek, a gypsy and the infamous new town arrival. It is soon revealed in a gory, cringe-inducing transformation scene — his eyeballs fall out with the rest of his flesh in a bloody heap which he then consumes — that Peter is a werewolf, although we never really know why this is. Did I mention Roman can control minds? That’s never really explained either. But, the male leads team up using these supernatural gifts to stop the evil werewolf, “Vargulf,” that commits no less than five more equally gruesome killings throughout the rest of the show.
The friendship between Peter and Roman was about one of the only story lines I cared about, probably because their character development is thorough and interesting. Most other characters are shrouded in what you first think is “mystery,” and then come to realize after the whole season is just the writer’s assuming we understand their implied cryptics, then never tying up loose ends.
While both the leading male characters Roman Godfrey, played by Bill Skarsgård (brother of Alexander Skarsgård “True Blood” star) and Peter Rumancek, played by Landon Liboroin (former “Degrassi” child star) were easy on the eyes, no amount of hot actors could save this show’s incoherence.
It became apparent after a very confusing 13 episodes that I never fully understood what was going on — and still don’t. The notes I took on the show to keep myself from getting entirely lost ended up looking like the scrawlings of a madman. I finally gave up on trying to understand the plot, and concluded that the writers must have been on acid while creating it.
All weirdness aside, the fatal blow to “Hemlock” was the Netflix setup, where view- ers have access to all 13 episodes at once. “Hemlock” unfortunately does not benefit from this strategy. On cable you typically have a week for suspense and thinking about what the show has presented before tuning back in, whereas Netflix viewers “binge” watching multiple episodes in a row. It was this, which at least for me, caused all the plot threads to tangle in my head, making it hard to follow the show when watching six episodes per day.
Hemlock Grove was a disturbing, absurd take on a supernatural drama. The writers failed to tie together loose ends, leaving me confused and at times frustrated. Combined with peculiarity emanating from all aspects of the show, it was hard to watch. Bottom line: I want my 13 hours back.