film & tv

Why You Should be Watching Hemlock Grove

* This post was originally written on 9/6/13 and reposted here.


If you didn’t know already Netflix has recently started commissioning it’s own original series – now I could go into the debates of a web-streaming TV service as it’s own content commissioning channel but I’m saving that for another audience on another website (watch this space) so I’ll just start jumping up and down in TV content glee over one thing I finally got round to watching: Hemlock Grove.

That’s right, I finally caved after coming down with an illness this week and took my snotty-nosed self to the sofa and pressed play. Hemlock Grove is a 2013 horror/mystery series created by executive producer Eli Roth (remember him? He directed Hostel and Hostel: Part II) and developed by the Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy team. In actual fact the series is based off of McGreevy’s novel of the same name. I’ll go on and put the summary of the novel right now because it is pretty much the same setting as the series:

A young girl is brutally murdered and found near the former Godfrey steel mill. As rumours mount, two of the suspects in her killing — Peter Rumancek, a poor Romani 17-year-old rumored to be a werewolf, and Roman, the heir to the Godfrey estate — decide to find the killer themselves.

Right so the series doesn’t exactly start with the same setting, but it pretty much sums it up. Immediately you are looking at two completely different in background characters striking up an unlikely friendship: Peter the good guy gypsy whom I spent the whole thirteen episodes wishing upon hope that if there is a second series he gets a haircut and does a Taylor Lautner buff-up and Roman, the wealthy coke and sex addicted heir of the prestigious Godfrey institue of scientific research (and err, other things). Oh, and did I mention that Famke Janssen appears throughout as Roman’s rather… sultry mother, swanning around in many a short-cut white frocked and kitten heeled number? Yeah, there’s a Freudian concept if you ever saw one from the off in this series: and it’s pretty awesome. Let’s just say I watched the trailer for this series and did a bit of a scoff that it was going to be a more adult-themed Twilight rip off – I was very wrong.

Let’s jump to the overall plot and theme of this series. I’m not going to spoil it for you (because you should really just get Netflix) but if you want to jump straight in without any idea of what this beast is about go ahead: just be prepared to cut off all contact with the outside world, load yourself up with snacks (you’ll need it, the episodes are 45-50 minutes long a piece!) and do it… now!

Anyone left? Good! Basically if you’re looking for something that’s going to keep hanging on with double (and sometimes triple) meanings in script and acting then Hemlock Grove is your bag. Basically the writing team have grabbed the audience by the lapels, shook them a little and screamed: “You wanted the supernatural? You damn well go it mister… but you’re gonna have to pay attention and work for it!”. The episodes can be slow at times, and there is a lot of Janssen’s Olivia propping up her long legs on someone’s desk, gracefully smoking a cigarette and letting out whispers of the plot’s secrets in a delightful British accent. But, you’ll just have to pay a lot of attention (maybe put the subtitles on) to get the real meaning that the writer’s have woven into each episodes right up to the last. The fantasy elements – you know fairies and werewolves – err on the side of folklore rather than straight-away in your face fact. I’d say really use your imagination with this one, and that is what makes this series so enjoyable.

” You can tell that some themes have been elaborated for a reason and you really start to questions who is ultimately good, and who is wicked. “

Between the lines, the production values – the series had a budget of forty-five million dollars – and the acting; there has been a lot of deviation from the black and white idea of good and evil. You can tell that some themes have been elaborated for a reason and you really start to questions who is ultimately good, and who is wicked. I mean, Roman is ultimately a very messed-up young man and has a deep dark side – but you begin to see Peter’s good nature seep into Roman’s intentions through the series. One thing I will say if you watch the series from beginning to end is take note, a lot of stuff that happens actually leads up to the last episode and gives it a hell of a lot more depth.

All in all, if you love fantasy and supernatural in your TV viewing them you’ll love Hemlock Grove. Nonetheless, there is one more thing… there is a hell of a lotta gore and I’m talking Game of Thrones-style gore. You won’t be put off your dinner and in every episode, but a warning, the corpses move – and there’s steaming-warm flesh and bones, and eye-balls and brains… and lots and lots of blood. I mean it’s not in bad taste, although Roman does do a rather unthinkable sexual act to a lady at a particular time of the month in one of the early episodes, but this series is most certainly for the over eighteen crowd. Actually, it was quite refreshing to see this kind of stuff done so well for TV. If not… blood soaked.

The mystery surrounding the killings is very well done, you’d think with a summary like that the plot would be a bit same-y, and kind of boring. Let’s face it, you are looking at two teenagers trying to solve some very adult murders, but what you realise is these are not children (although you are reminded quite late in by one of the character’s chanting in a tense scene: “they’re children, just children” and you get a lot of Janssen using the term ‘darlings’ for her off-spring in that creepy accent) as there is no real family setting and parental contraint for the characters, they can do as they please and go wherever they need to for the plot to move on. Funnily enough there is quite an emphasis on family, but you’re looking at brothers, sisters and cousins rather than parental figures. Well, there is still some ‘family-unit’ stuff in there but this is going a bit too in-depth as an article now so I’ll just leave that there.

“Go for the blood and guts and stay for the monologues […] You will not regret it”

I was very pleasantly surprised by the series and I really do recommend you to watch it when you have time. Go for the blood and guts and stay for the monologues is what I say. You will not regret it, and you’ll be waiting with a baited breath (or a Shelley-like wheeze) for the second series which, my quick google has told is still up in the air.

But remember, “God doesn’t want you to be happy, he wants you to be strong”.