Arriving in Hemlock Grove, young Roma-descended Peter Rumancek tries to fit in at his new school…
This is the second full original series from Netflix following their remake of House of Cards, and like that show all 13 episodes of Hemlock Grove have been made available all at once for on-demand viewing. The series is produced by Eli Roth, best known for a series of ‘torture porn’ movies, and he also directed this opening instalment.
It follows the traditional set up of a new family arriving in town—Peter (Landom Liboiron) and his mother Lynda (Lili Taylor) inherit a run down trailer home from his uncle—and sets up the town’s power brokers, the Godfrey family. Flashbacks reveal how Dougray Scott’s Norman Godfrey and his brother dominated the town through business and property, and how his brother couldn’t cope with his odd wife, Olivia (Famke Jansen) and deformed daughter Shelley (whose outsize form is inhabited by three different actors, one of them male).
This all unravels at what some might call a slow pace, but it makes a change from the frantic speed of some shows. In Shelley, Hemlock Grove has a character who’d be right at home in American Horror Story, although this show doesn’t adopt any of the directorial flourishes that makes the former such delirious fun.
We meet other characters, such as spoiled rich kid Roman (Bill Skarsgard) and the town sheriff (Battlestar Galactica‘s Aaron Douglas). Quite why the rich kid is at the same school as Peter is unclear, as is the exact supernatural status of any of the characters—is Roman a vampire, and Peter a werewolf (as a fellow pupil dubs him), or is it not as straightforward as that? Is Fanke Jansen’s matriarch a witch, or something else? The first instalment isn’t saying, and that’s quite refreshing.
The main event of the pilot is the bloody death of a pupil, seemingly mauled by an animal… Who or what was responsible is one of the story’s driving threads, but there are enough other character-based mysteries to keep interest in Hemlock Grove high for a few more episodes at least. How it unfolds from here will determine whether Netflix has succeeded in offering a new way of consuming worthwhile television or not.
Verdict: An interesting, slow-paced small town drama which has potential, as long as there are answers as well as questions…
Episode 1 ‘Jellyfish in the Sky’: 7/10
Brian J. Robb