Against my better judgement, I re-upgraded to Netflix over the weekend. I was one of the few who cancelled at the time that they split their discs/streaming services and hiked the rates, merely on principle (read: out of stubbornness). I did kind of miss it though, especially now that I have a nicer computer that can handle quality video streaming.
I have been intrigued lately with the new trend of non-major-networks featuring original programming, such as Netflix and Amazon (review of Zombieland forthcoming) and couldn’t possibly pass up the new ELI ROTH-helmed HEMLOCK GROVE. Reviews have generally been mixed from what I’ve seen so far and for reasons unbeknownst to me seeing as I don’t want spoilers yet and I hate for my initial opinion to be tainted by other less meaningful opinions (which includes almost all opinions other than my own).
To call HEMLOCK GROVE a ‘werewolf show’ doesn’t quite hit at the heart of it and now that I am halfway though the first season, it’s difficult to tell exactly who/what the story really revolves around. It is very much enjoyable albeit not perfect, but its flaws can be easily overlooked by its strengths.
The actors themselves were cast near-flawlessly. With the exception of the ‘evil doctor’ played by JOEL DE LA FUENTE (LAW AND ORDER SVU) who I’m still debating whether or not fills the role appropriately, the rest of the lead cast is quite good overall. FAMKE JANSSEN (Jean Grey from the XMEN movies) is fantastic, as well as the ‘buddy’ duo of BILL SKARSGARD and LANDON LIBOIRON, the former of which is brother to ALEXANDER SKARSGARD of TRUE BLOOD fame and the latter has been in a bunch of smaller stuff that I was not familiar with save the so-so Lovecraftian movie ALTITUDE.
Aside from the major cast, LILI TAYLOR plays a gypsy mother, DOUGRAY SCOTT plays a flawed psychiatrist and FREYA TINGLEY (who was clearly never made fun of in high school for a name like that) plays a timid highschooler who may-or-may-not be another werewolf. Haven’t gotten that far yet.
As much as the cast shines, the script can be extremely uneven going from very engaging moments to bits of laughably silly dialogue. Thankfully, there have not been many of the laughable moments, and the majority of the show thus far has been satisfactorily engaging. There are some moments where the two main actors feel a little too much like a strange parody of TWILIGHT, but the feeling faded quickly as I continued watching.
Left in less capable hands of an MTV or a CW, it could have easily devolved into an emo-driven exploration of teenage douchebaggery. The show’s creators did a pretty good job of steering clear of too much of the angst and melodrama.
The story is what I like the most about HEMLOCK GROVE because there is so much happening as it culminates (hopefully) to a big reveal of a finish. The show is being marketed as a werewolf drama, although it is much more of a “creepy towns have creepy families and creepy families have creepy secrets” show. I wish there was a little more mystery behind the identity of the actual werewolf (not much of a spoiler to say that you find out in the second episode that it is who everybody thinks it is), but you quickly discover that lycanism is not the main crux here.
Along with the werewolf, there is a family of some kind of vampire-ish monsters (the Godfreys) who have a deformed glowing sister, a werewolf hunter commissioned by the church, the evil doctor who carries out some sort of twisted biological experiments, a voodoo/witchcraft priestess, some sort of impregnating angel and a guy who may or may not be a zombie that can see into the future.
To address the werewolf bit directly, HEMLOCK GROVE has one of the best werewolf transformation scenes that I have ever seen, television and movies included. It is absolutely terrifying and surprisingly well done from a cinematic point of view for a television show.
Granted, I am only six episodes in so hopefully things continue as well as they have been going so far. According to Netflix, early viewing has topped HOUSE OF CARDS numbers from February so hopefully that spells good things for the horror genre infiltrating more and more networks and shows.
First half of the season gets a solid “B”. While not the greatest show in the history of television, it’s a fine reason to upgrade to a free one-month subscription of Netflix.